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Fun With Triptych Photography: Trees and Clouds

Triptych Photography

Triptych Photography
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I got a thing for triptych photography. There's something about threes - it just looks good. Maybe it's because I'm one of 3 brothers. But whatever the reason, lately I've been addicted to taking pictures in such a way that they'll look good as a triptych in the final presentation. This most often manifests as three nearly identical compositions of slightly different subjects so that when they are finally arranged together into a triptych, the artwork, as a whole, simultaneously highlights the broad similarities and minor differences between subjects all in one piece.

The other way to make a triptych is to simply divide up a single picture into thirds, then place the segments next to each other to reconstitute the bigger picture, as I did with the 10-foot wide panoramic hanging in my Tustin office.

Triptych Wall Art

Recently, when my girlfriend and I took our dog out for a drive/walk on a partly cloudy day, we eventually found ourselves at my old high school. The clouds were gorgeous - which is the real reason we decided to get out of the house - and I brought my camera gear along to capture the dramatic sky. Whenever we get those picturesque partly cloudy skies dotted with billowing fair-weather cumulous clouds, I feel a nagging itch to go photograph it. I simply love this type of weather. It is unquestionably my favorite type of sky. But my dilemma, usually, is that there just aren't many good foregrounds here in Orange County to create a traditional land-and-sky landscape photo. Unless I want that gorgeous sky paired with an endless wasteland of tract housing and strip malls, I find myself more than a bit frustrated.

I could head down to the beach and photograph this beautiful sky over the ocean, which I have done before with excellent results, but you Orange County natives know that the skies at the beach are rarely similar to the skies just 10 miles in from the coast. It would be a gamble heading down there. Or I could venture out into one of the local wilderness preserves to catch this sky over some rolling hills, but with the recent drought and the ever-shrinking wilderness areas, it can be difficult to find a good foreground devoid of tract-housing clutter.

So when we get skies like this and I get the urge to take pictures, I go into "let's play some Jazz" mode. I bring my camera along as I drive or bike around OC, and I simply look for ways to improvise. Head over here, see if something works, move on to something else if it doesn't. Often times this method results in nothing noteworthy, but sometimes it results in photos I'm really proud to call my own.

On this little outing with my girlfriend and our dog, the improvisation led us to my high school. Not sure why, I was just following my instincts and looking for an open view of the sky. But I'm glad we ended up at this location because I found some trees that I could silhouette against the sky without any suburban clutter in the background thanks to a wide open spread of baseball fields behind it. I immediately envisioned a black and white triptych of three of these trees side-by-side. I wanted a rich, dark sky with bright contrasting clouds and a simple outline of the tree centered perfectly in each composition. Our angle to these trees gave us the exact backlighting I needed to illuminate the clouds and silhouette the trees.

Although I always try my damnedest to predict conditions and plan out my shots well in advance, shoots like this always remind me that improvisation is an important skill to creating great photos.

Here are the individual shots from this triptych:

Triptych Photography

Triptych Photography

Triptych Photography

Mojave Desert, Part 2: Black and White Landscape Photography

Mojave Desert Black and White Landscape Photography
Black and White Landscape Photography in the Mojave Desert
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I didn’t shoot a ton of black and white landscape photography on my most recent trip to the Mojave Desert. I’m not really sure why - I suppose the colors were just too delicious to desaturate at the time - but despite my slim-pick’ns on the monochrome front, I really, really love sand dunes in black and white. The contrast and lines are just superb for monochrome photography.

Right off the bat, most of the compositions here will look quite familiar if you saw my last post from this Mojave Desert trip with my color landscape photography. Once I set up a shot for color photography, I tend to try the same exact composition in black and white because it’s easy to do and I like having both options. I always tell myself that I’ll pick one later - the color or the B&W - as the final select, but I always find myself torn between the pretty colors and the rich monochrome shots. That’s why both usually end up on my website. I also often shoot the same composition in both horizontal and vertical framing. It’s good to have both varieties when making a fine art piece or trying to fit a picture into a magazine or book.

Each of the shots here were made at sunrise looking northwest. I was fortunate to get relatively clear skies on one of the mornings which allowed the unobstructed sun to bathe these dunes in a strong, harsh, directional side lighting. When you’re trying to highlight sand textures and shapes in the dunes, you need harsh light. If the light is softened up too much by a thin cloud layer, the texture just disappears under the flat lighting. And if the sun is too high in the sky - like at noon - the shadows aren’t going in the right direction to bring out the details. It needs to be side-lighting and it needs to be strong directional light. So, thank you, clear skies.

I don’t remember for sure, but I’m pretty sure I used a polarizer in most of these photos, a red #23A filter on all of them, and a split ND filter on most or all of them. Without these filters, the contrast would have been lackluster. And without solid manual metering technique, I would have botched the whole thing.

I have to say, the more I look at my landscape photography from this trip and other trips to the Kelso Sand Dunes of the Mojave Desert, the more I like the black and white versions. Does that mean I’m getting old?

Mojave Desert Black and White Landscape Photography

Mojave Desert Black and White Landscape Photography

Mojave Desert Black and White Landscape Photography

Abstract Photography: Palm Trees in Laguna Beach

Abstract Photography: Palm Trees in Laguna BeachAbstract Photography: Palm Trees in Laguna Beach
Double exposure on Ilford Delta 100 Film
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I'm not really known for abstract photography. Most of my work consists of more literal interpretations of landscapes and nature. Nothing wrong with that, but lately I've been feeling the urge to flex my creativity a little bit by attempting a more abstract approach on my subjects. I've found that forcing myself to see a subject in a different way that departs hugely from my typical straightforward approach tends to open up the flood gates of creativity in me and I often times create photographs I'm really proud of. If I skip the "obvious shot" and just concentrate my efforts on doing something different - anything different - from my first inclination and from what I've seen before, I often times like the results more.

I'm beginning to believe that an ounce of "different" is worth 10 pounds of technical perfection, dramatic composition, and epic light.

So one day in January when I ventured out to Laguna Beach to photograph the sights, I decided to try some abstract photography on the multitude of palm trees down there. I wanted to try something different than simply  straightforward photos of palm trees. I didn't want the viewers to look at these photos and think "yep, there's some palm trees in Laguna Beach." Instead, I wanted my viewers to be unable to express exactly what the photos made them think of or feel. I wanted their emotional and mental response to be difficult to explain.

See, I like it when a photograph or a painting simply instills a "vibe" in you - a feeling that you can't really express in words or describe fully to anybody else. The paintings of R. Kenton Nelson do that for me. When I look at his work, I just get a vibe. I can't articulate it and I don't even want to try. I just feel it.

I know, I'm getting deep here.

But seriously, I think a painting or a photograph should instill this kind of unexplainable sensation in viewers. It shouldn't be easy to describe why you love a work of art or what it means to you or what it's trying to communicate. Because if you could just put it into words, then what's the point of the artwork?

Now the thing about abstract photography is that it doesn't get the same enthusiastic response from viewers as the Peter Lik-esque epic landscape compositions that are bursting with color and drama. Flashy colors and epic scenics grab people, plain and simple. After all, those types of photos look awesome on a digital display. But I've come to realize that I personally don't like hanging such epic, in-your-face photographs on my own walls. I tend to gravitate towards the more subtle, somewhat understated photography that doesn't punch you in the face like the typical landscapes out there. I like wall art that accents a room, not overtakes it. 

So when I photographed these palm trees in Laguna Beach, I wanted to capture them in such a way that the pictures would be (1) something I've never seen before, (2) something I'd want to hang on my own walls at home, (3) something that would really push my creativity and force me to think outside my normal approach, and (4) something that would instill that unexplainable, difficult-to-articulate feeling in my viewers and in myself.

To accomplish (1) and (3), I exposed my film multiple times with overlapping compositions of clusters of palm trees so as to create a more abstract photography look that wasn't so structured. I wanted it sloppy, yet precise - simple compositional elements of various palm trees overlaid to create some interesting shapes and tones. The goal of the compositions was simplicity. Two of the compositions were triple exposures on a single piece of film, two were double exposures. The one with the seagull is a straightforward single exposure. I found out upon developing the film that I did successfully achieve point (2). And as for point (4), these photos do instill that intangible feeling within me, but I can only hope it achieves that in others.

I framed up this abstract photography of palm trees in Laguna Beach for a month-long display at Artist Eye Gallery in (fittingly) Laguna Beach, CA. If you're in the area, swing by Artist Eye Gallery on Thursday, April 3rd from 6:30-9:00pm for Art Walk to see me and these photos in person!

Click any photo to enlarge. And just for fun, there's a little Instagram video for you at the bottom.

Abstract Photography: Palm Trees in Laguna Beach

Abstract Photography: Palm Trees in Laguna Beach

Abstract Photography: Palm Trees in Laguna Beach

Abstract Photography: Palm Trees in Laguna Beach

Abstract Photography: Palm Trees in Laguna Beach

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