Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Cloudy with a chance of Music

For the first time, I can see out the side light windows by my front door. The ice storm has bent the 12' arborvitae nearly to the ground, snapping the tops without detaching them so they now resemble an arrangement of dried grasses rather than stately columns. A man came by to offer tree removal services but I just don't have the heart yet to give up on them. Maybe we can anchor them again; we have lost part of every tree in our yard and I feel exposed without them.

All day long I have been working on the photos from New Orleans to the sound of chain saws. I could use the energy of the street music from Frenchmen Street to liven me up. The brass and drums hold more hope than the dull thud and gasoline buzz. 

Photographing the dancing and playing was a challenge and one that I have got to figure out how to overcome. So much of what is interesting comes out at night...and doesn't stand still. In Mexico I was drawn to the dance and drum circles shaking through the streets in brightly colored feathers and shell covered leggings, something that happens after dark. I got the same blurry, oddly colored images as I worked to penetrate the darkness to show what I could see but that my camera could not. Those images were the first where I understood what luminance noise was and the inverse relationship between sharpness and noise.

The real trick is to somehow create images that express what I saw. This is more than an act of light because my brain fills in more than the frozen mechanical cyclops that is my camera can capture. So much of what we see isn't actually there. It's really about finding that mixture of technical skill and experience part of which lies in the taking of the photo and part of which is in the post production work. I don't want the images I have of night dancing to look like they were taken at noon. I don't want the people who are filled with movement to be crisply still. It was dark and alive with bright spots and absolute shadows; things half revealed and too fast to be seen. 

I dropped the exposure down by 2 full stops and bumped the ISO up to 2500 figuring that the noise would have to be dealt with by softening (thank you to Ben Long for the great run down on night photography at Lynda). I thought this was an okay compromise since the images would never be razor sharp anyway - the night of drinking and dancing was soft and blurry and so would be any images I created of it. The motion of the dancers' feet and hands drags across the images but doesn't dissolve the framing or leave the figures slopped across the scene. 

I wouldn't say that I think I've nailed this but I am making some progress in understanding how to make the camera work for me instead of telling me what I can and cannot have. If photography is writing with light, night photography can be whispered through highlights but there is still something ferocious in the shadows.