Thursday, January 19, 2017

Scrambled Eggs…

Been some hectic weeks, and somehow the process is still going on. Anyway, it seems I have some problems in focusing in general, as I cannot stand doing a single job without being distracted or, simply, drained. This will be a quick stroll about the latest stuff I've been working on, or will be.

TessellaQaddis


Of course, first, there is my interest in tessellations, which I've stopped running after for a while to do some other chores and projects. In my hunt for new "composites" for creating a tessellating panorama, I've returned back to block #1 as I was working with TessellaQaddis, and this time, it is probably not even quite flowing smoothly at some edges. However, I've made some thoughts and still flipping ideas in my mind to see if I can get back at it later.
One of the projects that were in my mind for a long time was a peeling effect for a human subject (no worries; no blood or violence involved!). I've finally got the chance to work with my brother about this idea, though it might be just a first trial and we might do it again later, but not sure about this possibility.

Peeling Bro

A great deal of cloning was involved here; I guess caused by the vertical movement of his body as he rotated. The rotation was clumsy if I can call it so, since no concrete method for measuring angles were used except the convention of using the big toe as a scale: two steps of a toe at a time is somewhat visually equals to about 30° or so. The hair was a big problem too; his was so rigid and random! I've done a mistake here to forget about the top shot (for the top of the head) and the chin shot (from below that is) which could be done easily by reclining the head back and forth, but I've forgot about that completely (since I'm more used to do simple horizontal rotations). Thinking about it now, I wonder how would I be able to fit these two shots into the composition. There might not be a big deal for the top of the head somehow, but as for the chin shot from below, that would definitely be a hard task. I'll leave it at that and see if I can get the chance to do this experiment again... with a better hair!
Another project which I was so proud to do was colorizing an old photo. I've seen lot of B&W images online which have been colorized, and mostly WWI and WWII images. After asking around, it seemed that colorizing was indeed a manual task most of the time! There might be some hidden technique out there using the original B&W slides to produce colored images but I'm not sure of such possibilities. Anyway, I set out to do my own project in this, using an old photo for Dad…

Dad
Left: Original, Right: Colored Version.

I think Dad had this shot done in his 30s and probably out of Kuwait, judging from the suit. Everything here is hypothetical, i.e. I made up the colors, except for the skin tone which I've tried to mimic to the best of my memory about Dad. There were some tiny "glitches" in some areas but probably not so obvious for the first glance until one would go on a thorough inspection, with the original size. These glitches are mainly caused by the fact that I was using Gaussian Blur over Layer Masks to smooth out the edges; otherwise, the image would look rigid and not natural with hard edges between areas of different colors. Here, I had to paint the white shirt even despite being white already, but my white was a bit gray-ish as I thought it is more realistic in looks. Same thing was done to the hair in black, but a "lighter" black instead of completely pure black. After adding a color to a specific area, it must be blended with the original photo. I didn't quite make a specific formula for blending and I've actually used many blends, from overlay to soft light and even multiply and hard light at times. It all depends on the final look to be achieved. For this reason, I had to make sure to convert the scanned image to a pure B&W, otherwise there would be problems in blending colors when there is a tint overall the image. This image was yellowish a bit (but far from being in sepia). Now, this is something I would love to do for some of the major pictures I have scanned from the family collection. But this work needs patience and also information about some details. I'll look after that later on.

On the other hand, there were some urgent matters that I had to stop everything and try to get along with, like the Italian Style contest which came contemporary to the Italian Week here in Kuwait. Our group is taking this seriously and a conference was held with the Italian ambassador, HE Giuseppe Scognamiglio, to explain related issues with this contest. The good thing here is, no models or human figures are allowed into the picture. A relief!



HE Giuseppe Scognamiglio and Mr Bahaadeen Al-Qazwini, leader and founder of BPF Group, during the Italian Style contest conference.

The leader of the group held two workshops to assist the participants if they like to. Personally, I attended only the first workshop which was held in The Scandinavian House, a furniture store belonging to Al-Khonaini Group (Instagram: @domus_scandinavia). The place has two exhibitions: one for office furniture mainly, and the other one for regular house furniture. As the office furniture section was all Italian, unlike the other, I hooked myself with this section alone. My main aim was a panorama in fact but since I'm advised not to post my participation image in the contest until the contest is over (February 27th), thus I won't be posting this now. Instead, I had some trials after doing the panorama there.

3D Urn

One of the ideas that occurred to me is this urn or big glass (whatever they call it) you see above. However, after insepcting closely, I realized that my idea is not clear; the contest required a merge of Italian goods, with Kuwaiti sense. My idea was kind of far from that concept. Thus, I decided to have fun on my own terms. I shot plain shots for this urn then found myself doing a 3D procedure on shooting and the result is seen above. In fact, I had to work it all together using HDR technique, but seems there are good slides with strong highlights that I might work on later as single images. All in all, the colors in the image are too distracting as it seems (and as I tested it with friends in the group) and the 3D effect does not show clearly. Thus, I had to make a B&W version of the image (going through the process again), and then it became a bit better when observed using the typical Red-Cyan Anaglyph (3D) glasses.

3D Urn B&W

There had been other shots for other sets but probably this (beside the panorama I've done and not shown here) are the best so far. I'm still inspecting though.
Now, even though there is a plenty of time to the end of this contest, I have to say I'm done with it and I've uploaded my participation (sent by email that is) already. I have so much burden of projects on my shoulders which need to be attended and no more time to waste!

Finale

Things are piling up and I'm feeling drained here. Is it my sleeping pattern? I don't know, though I don't think this is the reason. Something is making me lose my appetite to hold the camera and work.
I have to finish some projects urgently before the end of the month. I'm trying to be optimistic here and say that I will be posting some of my results by next week, but I think it's early to say that with my mood swings. I hate when this happens, specially in times like these when I'm overwhelmed with projects. I even forgot totally about my older passion: conlangs.
The need for a vacation is really, really, giving me more stress when it crosses my mind. I can't stop thinking about it but it is a need rather than a luxury. The noise and the troubles and problems in this house are just too much to my already-defused mind. But where to? Is it affordable? All of this and other matters are simply behind a curtain for the time being, and I hate to look behind it…





Stock photography by Taher AlShemaly at Alamy

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Tessella…

Happy (belated) new year. I really needed this holiday. Spent it mostly sleeping (on and off though) and almost doing nothing except of some trials. I was supposed to work with my camera for some project assigned to me, but I couldn't help it. I needed to sleep as much as I can.
On my list there were games, more games, and tessellations. Anyway, I didn't want to play all the games at once, so I kept some for the coming weekend!

Tessella

I've been following with the steps of Escher so far and trying to get as much as I can of inspiration out of his works. That, again, lead me to delve a bit into mathematics and geometry. After reading and even watching videos about tessellations, I've realized that I can easy do it with shapes (specifically random ones), but my case here is special: I'm working panoramas which I need to make seamless and flowing with fluency. For this, the typical methods for creating tessellations do not exactly work here.

Failed attempt with Kylemore Abbey panorama (2014).

A perfect tessellation is one that contain no gaps, supposedly, unlike the example above. I've spent some time strolling through many mathematics and videos trying to find some ground to start from, and somehow something appeared to me and I've finally made my first successful tessellation.

Tessellamore

If you go through Tessellamore (click to enlarge), you would find that sides and edges are flowing with each other as one image complete the other making one continuous pattern. This is one composition found, and I'm still experimenting with more composition or shapes for panorama slices to make other patterns, if possible! If nothing works, I might use the same method to merge other panoramas done before, specifically those from Oman and Malta.
Beside tessellation, there is also the matter of Impossible Objects and 4D Cubes or Hypercubes (a.k.a. Tesseracts). They are somewhat on the side for the time being as I look deeper into the matter of panorama tessellations, but nevertheless, I encounter them now and then (almost in the same manner and shapes). However, there was one impossible object which I intentionally worked out.

Impossible in Progress

The cube is made of slices from a panorama for the inside of Jabreen fort and castle (Bahla, Oman). There are some ideas to apply more tricks of that sort later on, specially forming a stack of cubes or sliding cube faces through each other. All that should be on hold for now!

Finale

So much had been going on specifically just before the year's end, and it is going on still. Winter is not as quiet as I hoped for it to be, but well, at least I'm not melting in Summer's stinking weather. But my urge for naps and sleep is growing by day.
My schedule is pressed in time right now. Workshops, meetings, discussions, and more work with my camera supposedly. What bothers me the most is the little daily stuff that just blacken my heart and sweep me away from really working on my own ideas and projects. Going to work everyday can be considered one of those. I'll just keep wishing for some quiet times in the coming weeks, and pamper myself with some classics…



Stock photography by Taher AlShemaly at Alamy

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Painterly…

Winter is getting colder, that sort of thing I would call good news! Meanwhile, I'm trying to get involved more into my thoughts and myself, and my experiments; as it seems the only thing I'm good at currently, with the lack of go-outs to snap some pictures, or even working indoors. I guess I can say I'm investing more time into my thoughts rather than my work with the camera. In hope these thoughts will deliver me somewhere.

Escherism

Well, I've been interested in the art of this man long time before I even adapt myself to photography. I've been reading about him recently to see if I can get any clue to get me further with my experiments with the camera, and I was somewhat happy to see that he got his biggest spark of inspiration from the tessellations of the Moorish architecture in Spain. The aspect of tessellations is something I'm considering, specially after some experiments with some of my panoramas.

Which way did they go?

Probably my first successful trial with this trend of surrealism (which I like to call Escherism) was with a panorama from Aughnanure Castle, specifically from inside the small tower; a panorama done in my 2014 visit. Since a panorama is a merge of several images, what about merging several panoramas? Does that it make it a hyperpanorama? Anyway, I had this idea for a long time and my aim was actually to expand on the edges of a regular spherical (equirectangular) panorama, because these edges (zenith and nadir specifically) are usually compressed and so distorted. Thus, my trial was to expand on these edges and fix this distortion to have a normal view WITH a equirectangular panorama of 360x180 view.

Surreal Jabreen


In the beginning, merging was hard to do, since PTGui nor Photoshop were useful in this kind of process. Thus, things had to be done manually. Since it would be a manual work, I had to program myself and my workflow, and in return I've generated a workflow in forming these panorama of various projections. So far, only the spherical (equirectangular) projection is adequate for such a process, but I'm trying to experiment more. I've done experiments already in the field of Mercator projection, which was a lengthy process and a hard task while the end result was quite a shock! But well, some people liked it after all (on instagram); seems surrealism got an audience far more than I thought it would.

Let's talk Dadaism.
Using Mercator projection. The whole scene rendered incomprehensible it seems.


On the list of projection styles is, of course, the planet projection and maybe the circular. Not expecting much out of those, since the distortion is high, but it might be a plausible surreal work. Doing a single surreal work like this would require stitching 7 to 25 panoramas! Thus, my work so far is on a small scale (not exceeding 2000 pixels wide under best conditions), and all are in JPEG format; nothing in HDR like I usually like to do with my regular panoramas. However, for some technical issues, I might have to stitch small HDR slides and tone-map all the set with the same settings before working on merging them in Photoshop.

Methodology

I'll explain here the method (or some of it) which I've used to generate the images above. As I've stated above, I needed from 7 up to 25 panoramas, but I believe 7 is quite enough. To organize my thoughts on the order of the images, I've assigned coordinated points to each panorama and literally name each to its position (using the Cartesian system, i.e. X and Y) in relation to the center (0,0) point, and typically this point is given to the zenith (i.e. the panorama is centered around the zenith point, with 90 as a pitch value). Of course this is just my reference point; any point of view of the panorama could be used as a (0,0) point.

Imaginary points for organizing and setting order to stitched
panorama of different pitches and yaws.


With assigning that point and forward, the yaw value defines the "X" value, while the pitch defines the "Y" value. Of course these values are in degrees, and I thought that the value of 45° is just suitable for the rotations in pitch direction (i.e. vertical or "Y" values). This means, each 45° is a single unit. For example: starting from the (0,0) view (and after stitching the panorama at this view point), raising the pitch to 45°, that means arriving at (0,1), while raising it for another 45°, or going directly from pitch "0" to "90°" right away, thus the point would be (0,2); while doing in the negative direction, like -45° means going down to (0,-1) and so on. Same concept is applied to the yaw value but with the yaw it is the "X" axis which changes: going 45° in yaw would be (1,0), while -45° in yaw is (-1,0).
It is important to track the process and always turn back to the (0,0) point after few changes in yaw or pitch. I've made many wrong stitches at the wrong angles. This is one reason that I prefer to assign the (0,0) or center point to the zenith view since it is easier to recognize. Also, I started saving the stitched panorama with names reflecting their positions on the grid accordingly. Working with few panoramas right now, it seems that not all points are really required; mostly 15 stitched panoramas would be needed, from (X:-2,0,2) and (Y:-2,-1,0,1,2) mostly. Working with other projections, however, would require more, like in Let's Talk Dadaism above, which was rendered with Mercator projection, yet the scene is not pretty clear because of the distortion. Some people liked it that way though!
I've stated before that I blend these panoramas manually, but in fact it's semi-manual process, where I have to place the slides manually and overlap them over each other at specific points, and then use Photoshop's Auto-Blend Layer... command with Panorama and Seamless options on. Thus, the blending process is sort of random but turns fine with panoramas being in spherical projection (since distortion is far less than in other styles).

Kubismus

Been awhile now for me being interested in some of the artistic movements of the past (and which still exist and followed I presume). One of these movements is Cubism without doubt. It is considered one of the cornerstones of arts in the 20th century. I loved the idea and wanted to investigate how that is applicable (if it is) to photography. To my surprise, I've figured that one of the ideas I had in mind (but didn't achieve yet) was actually one form of cubism, namely shooting several shots of the same object at slightly different angles or distances and making a collage of them; some photographers did that already even back on film days! Well, maybe not new idea, but I was still going to try it when I get the time (and subject) to.

Cubic Selfie
Up until finding the good subject and the time, I've decided to edit and retouch some photos for a trial into cubism. I guess my favorite target was my selfie from 2015 (an infrared shot with a regular camera). The process was simple: open the image, copy the image into another window (or file) and make it small, then copy specific details from the large image onto the small image, with some addition of some details later (like shadows). Some people stated that it looks 3D-ish, and this is an important remark, because sometimes, all you need is just add a shadow to your work and you are at the steps of a 3D image!
Generally speaking, cubism is supposed to be about "neglecting" the perspective and considerations for light and shadow and simply capturing the essence of the subject, thus adding a shadow here does not "go under" the umbrella of cubism I suppose! But maybe things are different when it comes to photography and the way that a camera work; hope that point would plead to forgive my shadow addition when editing this.

Cubic Corrib

Things evolved a bit later, specially after discovering a set of photos from my 2009 visit to Ireland (my first) where I've shot several photos at different zooming levels for the lake and the boat. Thus, I've started taking details from the other images and paste them onto the first photo (with least zoom level). In addition, I've started adding more effects to the squares (cubes) like bevel effect, trying to approach some good level of a cube-like shape. Significant details here were scarce somehow, thus I had to tear down the basic image further into few squares to fill empty spaces. To me, Cubic Corrib is still not as much interesting as Cubic Selfie despite the effects put into it.


Cubic Pjazza

It is natural of course to think of panoramas and the cubic art, but instead of following the usual steps with the other regular shots, I've sliced panoramas and fit them into a cube (while making front layers transparent). The Cubic Pjazza cube was just an experiment. The main problem is not being able to show the inside or the back of the cube and lowering the opacity (by 50%) of the front layers (mainly front, right, and top layers) seems not quite a plausible solution since much details are somewhat lost. The next step was, of course, a hypercube!

Kylemore Tesseract

Again, we have a problem of opacity and unclear details, but further more there is a significant problem of filling the space between the two cubes (which are supposed to be planes connecting the two cubes, hence raising the dimension level). In Kylemore Tesseract not all the space is filled, but only the vertical planes connecting the corners of the inner and outer cubes. To add, I'm not sure how (or rather with what) to connect these 2 cubes: what kind of slides I should use? This thing is still in experimenting phase, but I do really think of making the experiment physical somehow by printing or creating models out of these panoramas (in slides), and try to put them together.
A funny coincidence occurred as I was working with these hypercube experiments, which seems to me that I've created my first Impossible Object!

Optika

It occurred to me as I was assembling a cube made out a panorama shot in Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman, in October last year. The bluish tint in Optika is generally caused by a shift in the color space but I kept it without fixing. Creating this by coincidence makes me consider photographic opportunities in the future. Not only that, but also considering other shapes and trends, like triangles and their properties, and, of course, circles as well.

Finale

It seems my brain is chasing its tail right now, specially with me dipping myself into math by the nose. Deep inside, the need for a vacation is increasing even further. All this indulgence in arts and math seems to be nothing but a trial to neglect myself and whatever tires my mind. In hope of creating something beautiful, though.
There are more ideas and even more sources of inspiration (from Sabah Fakhri as usual and even others - mainly Arabic songs and singers). I don't want to give excuses to myself, but having a quiet home and a good space to work in are now pretty much essential parts of having an easy flow of thoughts and work, yet, I'm lacking these two aspects which makes me reluctant and must think about every movement I do to move my camera gear here and there, beside the accessories. I guess I have to seriously start noting down any ideas that pass my mind, otherwise I will be at loss. Many of these ideas would require having a model as I can't (or rather it's advisable not to) be the model myself and the photographer in the same time. And of course, more props and accessories needed.
My next step in this life, so far, is to take each day as it is and suppressing, hard, my panic attacks and the fear for tomorrow. For in God I trust…


Stock photography by Taher AlShemaly at Alamy

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Projectoid…

Hectic weeks, and winter is finally here! I'm trying to absorb every single atom of this cold weather into my skin, as much as I can, before the arrival of the not-to-be-mentioned. Meanwhile, I was hanging on the tails of some of the last projects I was going on with, but I have to say the results are not what I've exactly expected; sort of disappointing. Thu, probably this would be a quick wrap about the latest. I didn't post anything last week since I was busy preparing and article for my other Arabic blog, so things here are a bit old stuff already that I didn't get the chance to post last week.

Heartoid
First of all, I wanted to redo the whole idea of essay photography (or photo story); just the first series of shots taken on the staircase. However, for some reason, things went erratic with my speedlite flashes beside having problems in positioning and managing the speedlite, while the location itself was not helping much really. The idea for redoing this was to stabilize the camera tilt and apply some of the notes after a critique from the founder and tutor (of the photo story workshop). I had to give up at the end, and rather quickly this time, because I had other plans in my head and also because of the frustration for working in this limited space! Needless to say, I had to return some of the items I've borrowed for long just for this project.



After finishing up with that project, I turned back to an old project which I've stopped temporary for the sake of the photo story project. That was about shooting transparent hearts and color them using Popsicle sticks.

Qtar 4


After successfully capturing some droplets from corn syrup with colored sticks reflected off it, I decided to work on a more meaningful idea instead of spreading droplets in a random way. Typically, for me, the object was a heart-shape; a transparent heart. I've tried hard to "draw" hearts using corn syrup itself, but that was not stable and could not be done technically. Then, tried ice (using heart-shaped molds for ice), but that way too fast to melt down. Freezing the corn syrup itself too was not good at all (it didn't freeze at all). Later, I tried mixing water with corn syrup and freeze the mix, which was a bit resistant to melting but still the mix was white and transparency was not enough. Finally, I've managed to work with gelatin and I have to admit that I made a little mistake here for freezing it after it was completely hardened, but the white layer on top was easy to break down with my finger and pushed away to get a relatively transparent heart but with some yellowish shade. This last solution was exactly what I need, since gelatin doesn't melt fast under room temperature. The problem with gelatin was its softness and it needs extra care to be extracted from the mold.

Single heart made by mixing water and corn syrup then frozen.


Instead of using one heart, I thought it is meaningful more to use two. Thus, I've completed a series of 6 shots for two hearts, each with a different color. I have to say though that some surplus on the sides of the hearts made it a bit awkward, but I didn't try to remove these additional parts in Photoshop (except for the purple hearts).

Two hearts made of gelatin. The red tones here are more flexible when suppressing the highlights reflections, unlike the water+corn syrup combination.

The purple hearts were cleaned on the left side removing some of the unnecessary parts on far left.


The final "product" was a cropped and cleaned (also darkened the background) hearts. For some reason I'm not sure of yet, it seems that the double gelatin hearts were stuck together even though each heart was a piece on its own! Anyway, all were uploaded to various stock sites, but to add some flavor to the process, I've made a collage of the 6 shots in a smaller size and uploaded to Canstockphoto website, only. Unfortunately, the status for all these images is pending for review. Things were faster on Canstockphoto. Some other stock sites, however, such as Dubistock (which is relatively new for me) did accept the series of hearts, but I didn't upload the collage there yet.

Hearts Collage


Mandaloid
I've been following some trend for mandala art on Instagram lately and I have to say that my love for symmetry (and probably my OCD-ish tendencies) pretty much like such art and shapes. It needs serious patience I suppose; something I disastrously lack. However, I tried my luck with such patterns digitally, once by converting some planet panoramas into line art (with specific technique) and once by working with typography, or doing art by letters. There is also one idea that I still didn't try yet which is drawing shapes by hand, scan them, and then repeating them in geometrical shapes digitally.
One of the doodles
turned into a vector
Scanning sketches and turning them into vectors is something I used to do from time to time, as I surprised myself for some of the doodles I used to do almost unconsciously in boring meetings and classes. Some of these are uploaded already to Canstockphoto (the only stock site up to which I upload vectors).
JOHN

The whole thing started when I was doodling in fact, and noticed how I can draw a heart by merging 2 J's, tip to tip. From that moment, I started to work digitally in Photoshop on combining letters, which later became full names combined in a complicated texture. The name "John" was first, then "Jesus." Well, I was thinking in advance here since Christmas season is coming and such vector might catch the eye and become trendy. Who knows! Finally, a whole complex design with the letter "J" alone. However, my real wish is to do an arabesque design some day, all out of geometry, just like that!
J
colors inversed
As for the time being, I'll try to think of more designs of that sort, with different names probably. All of the previous designs are converted to EPS, which should support vectors; it is the only format accepted by stock sites usually. Still, though, I think I'm doing something wrong here and I do need to re-check the processing of such files. I have to consider to if I should upload these vectors elsewhere, since Canstockphoto exclusive option had been removed, i.e. no special consideration or pricing for exclusive images, it seems.

Finale
I'm trying to push myself further with my camera now, trying different things other than my tendencies for panoramas, which, truth be said, I miss so much. Meanwhile, I still feel there is so much to be done with the music and songs of Sabah Fakhry (صباح فخري) and I keep having visits of thoughts and ideas by the lyrics of his songs, but the lot of them would be hard for me to do, specially those that might need a model. The only model I feel comfortable to work with, so far, is me. As for now, and finishing the experiments with gelatin, I've packed up my stuff which annoyed some people a lot for being there in the guest room spreading all over the place. Until I get another trend of thought and an idea to work, I might as well get my stuff down again... but I'll try to do it first in the small space available in my condensed room.
As days pass by, the mention of travels comes in my face wherever I go and head. People talk about it, even my horoscope talks about it, as well as tarot cards. Where to? Can I afford it really? Would I be able to manage things with Mom and the family before I go? Many things to think about before giving a concrete answer.

JESUS


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Phovel…

Been sort of a busy week and hence I didn't have the time to write a post for last week. The busy life is mainly about going to work and spending the day coping with tiredness (which usually becomes a fail). Weather is getting colder (perfect!), which means also more need for sleeping hours; seems I'm still stuck in the 5 hours range and that's barely enough!

RIP
Note: I don't own the image.
This week started off with some sad news; well, for some that is. One of the giants in the world of Cinema and TV passed away: Mahmood Abdul-Aziz [محمود عبدالعزيز]. Probably people who know me very well know pretty well that I don't spend my time in front of TV and didn't go to the movies in ages, not to say spending time watching them on TV. However, this man specifically had me hooked in most of the characters he played. I feel sad indeed, though I don't have a connection to him really or anything; I suppose it's the charisma he owned, and will own even when he is gone from our world. May he rest in peace, Amen.
As for me on the other hand, I had some tasks hanging in the air and was trying to make a good compromise between doing them and coping with life itself…

Phovel!

I was involved in the past weeks in a workshop with our group's leader about the so-called Photo-Story (a.k.a Photo Essay, Essay Photography, Serial Photography). In a nutshell, it is the making of a story from a series of photos (usually ranging between 5 to 12 images). Two weeks passed since the last day of the workshop (which was composed of 2 days with about 3 hours to each). At the end of the workshop we were supposed to give some results or samples of our work with this issue, which was something that took me around 2 weeks to complete. Not because I was lazy alone, but also I needed some accessories from my sisters to complete the idea I had in mind.
The main theme of the idea I had in mind was: a girl's life. Not sure why I picked this topic though but probably it was the first thing that struck me specially after observing some samples in the workshop; it sounds that chronological stories are somewhat the easiest. As per the leader's notes: it is not necessary to include a human in the photo, but it is enough to add a sign of that person. Thus, from that point on, I decided that I should work around it in this way, since I don't like portraiture much. Also, one of the basic instructions was to form the story and the basic elements for the shots and ideas by noting them down; everything should be in writing before catching the camera and starting to work right away. I have to admit though, I was lazy at this point specifically but I've formed all the imagery and ideas in my head and all I needed with the accessories. Meanwhile, I've developed another string of thoughts on implying this idea, and at the end, I've decided to shoot one series in regular camera, and the other to be done in my converted camera and IR filter on lens.


Photo Story One


Series One

This series was shot with a regular camera. My idea was to stabilize the background and keep moving the elements on the steps of the stairway, but unfortunately, because of the lens choice (50mm, which I picked mainly for its f/1.4 capabilities) and the narrow space which I have to work within - all that made it impossible to not tilt the camera upward as I continue shooting the series and going up the steps. Probably I needed something around 40mm or even 30mm, but such a choice is not available (and connecting a teleconverter to my 15mm was not a choice either). Anyway, it seems I was wrong in picking up that lens or even to have a concern about shooting at f/1.4. I guess, now after all this work done, that f/2 ~ f/4 would suffice as well, which makes me consider doing the whole experiment all over again with another lens!

Source: B&H
It was during this session that my Nissin power-pack fell down and got damaged, and now it is fixed with the help of my brother with gratitude. It is a reminder not to attach these stuff to my pants ever! Anyway, I continued to shoot regularly using the regular AA batteries inside the speedlite. I wanted a spotlight effect on every scene, and I've achieved that without attaching any light modifiers to the speedlite, but simply zooming the head to its maximum length (105mm). Remember: Light spreads out in a conic projection, and since I'm too close to my subject here, the cone is going to be short and hence it would act as a spotlight. Carrying the speedlite by hand or a lateral arm and pointing it down was a hassle though.

6 - Series One
Now among all these shots in the series, probably the last shot (6) was a bit philosophical and could carry on many meanings depending on the person who views it and his or her psychology. Personally, my idea with this shot was however a child grows, it remains a child in the view of the parents, and losing them will bring it back to childhood again however old the person is. Some people though might interpret that differently like being an orphan or the child is the king of the house at the end (since the little shoes are at the very topmost step), or even the cycle of life. Not sure if the variety of interpretations is a good or a bad thing, as opinions (as I read before) differ in this field: some say a good shot is the one that picks the right idea for the viewer and that is a sign of a thoughtful photographer, while others argue that the variety in interpretations for a single shot is a sign of creativity (given that composition is executed well). However the opinion is, it seems this series is liked by the leader more than the next one, but he stated it needs a bit of extra work, which I will try to do in the coming weeks!

Photo Story Two

Series Two


This series was more disastrous. It was done in one day and in a haste and had to change many ideas because I couldn't get the proper help back then. The idea for this essay or series is similar to the previous one but expressed differently, and shot differently. Submission of the final results was due the next day so I had no time. This series was done with a converted camera, and because of my haste, I did several mistakes:
  1. One image is not similar to the others in orientation, which somehow made it awkward when presenting and showing the series.
  2. Some of these images were taken with IR filter on lens, and some were taken without (because I simply thought it is there but it wasn't!). 
  3. The shoot was not organized and were not taken in chronological order (and that can cause confusion in the workflow, for me at least). 
  4. Not being able to find a young model made the second shot in the series even more awkward. 
When checking the series, the leader pointed out that he feels there is a gap in the story. Probably it is somewhere between (4) and (5), where (4) symbolizes marriage, and (5) symbolized old age, and probably I should have added something symbolizing Motherhood.

1 - Series Two

The hardest part of shooting with my converted camera is the fact that I can't focus using the viewfinder in a normal way because the IR filter is (typically) opaque, and I can see through only using the LiveView, and in LiveView, focusing was somewhat hard to be done for some reason. All that, was done handheld and without a tripod. Probably the toughest one to be done was 1 - Series Two, where I asked my brother to put his pinky finger into his daughter's hand. The quick movement of the baby and the troublesome focusing with the LiveView had me really, really exhausted. As for some of the shots which were taken without the IR filter on lens, things were fixed using Photoshop to mimic the IR look a bit; these shots after all were taken with a converted camera (i.e. with a full range of spectrum including visible AND infrared). Notably, a friend commented on this series, saying it is more likely to be related to a healthcare topic (e.g. hospital) rather than the life of a girl!

Conclusions

This type of art is promising and probably had more expansion in expressing moods and stories; because not everything should be fit into one picture. The leader of the group says it is one of the most desired fields in contests (but that's not really my concern for now).
It is necessary to write down the ideas and sections of the story (in points if possible) in order to organize the work. From the overall evaluation for the two series above, it seems that a stable background would give and serve a better story line, but of course that depends on the type and nature of the story after all. Also, it seems that a set of images with a constant orientation is better in presentation, or if there must be a change in orientation, I guess it is better to be done in a specific organized manner (e.g. landscape-portrait-landscape... and so on). I'm not sure if there is any generally accepted rule for the orientation in such field of photography, but this is my own observation after all.

Finale

So, this post is mainly dedicated for one of the workshops I've been involved in lately. Now with me being back to work it seems a bit harder for me to go further to more workshops in the future but I'll try, with this exhausted body.
There were other experiments but they failed and I'm still looking for a chance to repeat them but with different materials, with hopes that it might be better next time. Meanwhile, I'm getting my probes out trying to sense more and get inspired more for achieving further projects with my camera, indoors.
I can't keep my mind off the idea of having a vacation and travel. I seriously need it with a "great depression" era passing through this country, and yet ironically I can't take the risk just like that under such circumstances. It's like a going on cycle. All I can do for now is indulge in games and camera as much as I can.
Now, I'm sitting even a new goal for myself, after the death of the star, Mahmood Abdul-Aziz. I guess I need to sit for some long hours in front of Youtube and follow up with whatever episodes and series for him posted there (the last series he acted in were published on Youtube as well as being played on TV). May he rest in peace.
Would that be enough to keep my mind off my nostalgia, panic, and depression? We'll see…

The Magician
A Homage


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Mental Diaspora…

Some weeks passed without counting them. I had to stop writing in this blog for a while (and the Arabic one too of course) after some drastic downfall in my mother's health; something almost costed her her life. Even though she is in a better condition somewhat but it is far from being the normal-her, as she is mostly bound to bed here at home and I'm trying, with the rest of the family, to take care of her and most importantly of all, to raise her self-esteem and make her smile despite the painful times.
Meanwhile, I was in fact trying to prepare for some photographic experiments which eventually were put on hold after the events, and trying slowly to get back to the pace and even trying to force myself to work on some projects.
I know, though, that some photographers advise against forcing oneself to work with the camera and leave it to inspiration alone, and initially I'm in that line of thought, but circumstances right now require some special measures, and probably forcing myself might take my mind off from the domestic problems that plague my life for the time being.

Let's Cook!

I've attended (and will in the near future) a workshop with members of the group given by the leader of the group which was about the imagination of the photographer and how to develop it. Our main theme for the practical part of the workshop was "kitchen utensils."
The topic of the workshop was, in some sense, forcing your brain to think differently about ordinary subjects (with a side dish of planning beforehand).

Boring Cold
Canon EF 50mm + B+W 920 IR filter,
f/9, 320-1sec, ISO200.
Before the practical part, I've picked a box of utensils which I didn't really consider what was in it, and thus I had no time to explore or think about what to do until I reached the meeting place. Anyway, the first idea to pop in my mind was to use a friend with 2 ladles as hands and show some boredom, as seen in Boring Cold. To add flavor to this shot specifically, an infrared filter was placed on lens (using my converted camera here and 580EXII speedlite on camera with diffuser). I didn't feel comfortable with this one, and probably my friend here didn't gauge his expression perfectly (trust me, modeling needs skills). I changed to my second idea which was inspired by the Jolly Roger flag (and, let's not talk how I got the inspiration).

Kuwaiti Jack Nickolson
Canon EF 50mm, f/9, 250-1sec, ISO200.

Using the same converted camera but without any filter on the lens, and also a speedlite here, the Kuwaiti Jack Nickolson was supposedly to be looking like the Jolly Roger, but with the facial expressions here and the hardships in holding the ladles in proper positions, the idea drifted away from that. Anyway, I liked the looks here so I worked for some time on enhancing the sharpness and the colors (specially the eyes and the mouth) to make it look more like a maniac's profile shot! The sharpness here was exaggerated on purpose and it was not done with convenient plugins (e.g. NIK or Noise Ninja), but it was done manually using layers in Photoshop (implementing the High Pass command). After these 2 shots, seeing that I don't work well with faces, I decided to concentrate more on the abstract lane of my thoughts and started playing around with the same ladles to come up with something unusual.

Metallic Lane
Canon EF 100mm macro, f/14, 250-1sec, ISO200.

I've finally arrived at that idea when I made a contact between the bottoms of the ladles (and it was hard to stabilize the set). Usually in such situations, I automatically switch my mind to think about macro details and look for abstracts and shapes, just like in this situation with Metallic Lane. A twist to the WB was applied to give it that bluish luster instead of the dull metallic one.
Major problem with these experiments is that the ladles were scratched and not polished in a good way, and however I washed them the stains and scratches remained. The practical part of this workshop was not the final deadline to present some work but it was a practice under the guidance of the founder and the teacher of the group, and we agreed to give results one week later which unfortunately passed without doing anything, since I've been busy with my messy life. However, I got new ladles with good polish and worked on them later on, as I will explain later in Rain-Bubbles section below.

Nailed It…

Before the dramatic events with Mom, I was already working on a little project, related to my previous post, The Fakhroid Muse, which is about getting inspired from a song or songs from the Syrian master, Sabah Fakhry (صباح فخري). Might be a good idea to read that blog post if you didn't.
I've been working on this idea, as I've said, before the dramatic events, and even after Mom being out of the hospital, I couldn't put a mind to it and finish it until just recently. I have to say though that I did a lot, a lot, of testing shots. The main problem was that the set was on ground level and I had to find a way to levitate the camera up to a certain level from the set (beside finding the good lens and the good position for speedlites).

Lovely Pain
Voigtländer 20mm, f/4.5, 4000-1sec, ISO200.

Generally speaking, the idea was inspired from the same song discussed in the Fakhroid Muse post, but a different line:
أثاريك نسيتني مع الأيام
ورضيت تفوتني على الآلام

Just to find you've forgot about me along the days
And you were satisfied to let me through the pains

The second line of this verse is the one that ticked in my mind and decided to implement the idea here. I've spent some time drawing a valentine heart on a cardboard and pinning some nails in it as it can be seen in Lovely Pain. In the beginning, the idea was to use 15mm fisheye lens because its perspective would help on forming the valentine heart more clearly (because of the distortion), but the wide field of view made it problematic to use such a lens, specially with speedlites placed around the set. As it can be seen above, the shutter speed is high, because I wanted to kill the ambient light completely (and of course that requires working in High-Speed mode).
I wanted to work with red food coloring in the beginning too, but apparently that was hard to show on metallic heads and (since I had no model to work with except of myself) it would make a mess for me, thus it was safer to work with red gel filter placed on the main speedlite. One speedlite was actually enough, sort of, but added another one on its side (was planned to light the feet alone), and for this we have here light heads sparkling (and lighter red tone). At the end, I've changed to Voigtländer 20mm lens for it is not as wide as the 15mm fisheye lens. Working with this lens can be tricky somewhat since it is manual completely and I had to re-focus as I adjusted the elevation and the direction of the camera several times (beside changing the spot to be under the focus several times).
The tricky part here is after shooting: on camera's LCD view, everything was alright, but when the file is opened on PC with large monitor, the valentine heart is barely recognizable and would require longer time of concentration to realize that it is a heart. Maybe it was my mistake even to draw it in reverse like that!
I'm still on the lookout for more inspiration and probably from the same song still. I do have some ideas already as I'm typing this, but the vivid glimpse of this idea would require having a model - someone to work with; something I'm not good at, and not available as well for me (of course, unless I pay money for a professional model I believe). I'll keep that for later though.

Rain-Bubbles

As a continuation for the kitchen utensils project which was started with the workshop mentioned in the first section of this post, Let's Cook!, I've tried to work with new ladles I've purchased specially for this project, and they are with good polish (but completely though). Big, small, and some tiny metallic container; I liked how they looked in the store without really thinking what to do with them. It took me some time to wander and to look, and finally got the idea of shooting reflections in some way, since these utensils do look like half spherical mirrors (concave or convex). Anyway, I did reflections, but in some other way. Completely different way!

Qtar 1 (droplets 1)
Canon EF 100mm macro, f/10, 250-1sec, ISO100.

As for the title of the image above, Qtar, I somewhat miss the Maltese language so I decided to use Maltese to name this series of images. After roaming my mind about, I finally sought hanging the ladle on the edge of a table (using clamp) and putting some drops of corn syrup (as a substitute for glycerine); water won't help much here with its low viscosity. Of course a setting as plain as this seem boring, so we have to add some colors to add life to the abstract, and thus I got colored sticks (like those tongue depressors used by doctors) out of my accessories arsenal, and placed them on the top of the ladle making a small window for the lens to peak into the droplets.

Full setting used with 2 speedlites. As it can be seen, the tripod legs were opened wider to get lower and closer to the ladle. Upon the ladle sit a number of colored sticks. Click to enlarge.

The first problem to encounter is which proper lens to use and I have discovered that sometimes, lot of times, we tend to complicate things instead of going directly to the problem. After trying a lot of lighting methods, and lenses with extension tubes, I reached the decision that I should keep it simple: single lens, no tubes, and even speedlite without any modifiers. The only thing here, as seen in the settings, the speedlites were not pointing directly but almost lighting the edge of the ladle which in turn spread the light all around the droplets.
Qtar 2
Canon EF 100mm macro, f/3.5, 200-1sec, ISO100.

Qtar 3
Canon EF 100mm macro, f/2.8, 200-1sec, ISO100.

Qtar 4
Canon EF 100mm macro, f/10, 250-1sec, ISO100.

As it can be seen here with this series of 4 shots, each change in the aperture (i.e. f-number) or the direction or power of the speedlite can produce interesting results; all that without touching anything in the settings but only changing the parameters in the camera and speedlite. Not to say also, the order of the colored sticks can be changed or the colors themselves (or even use something else other than sticks). Such a simple experiment can have great variety of results and the expectations are limitless!
Probably of the 4 above, Qtar 3 is the most liked one. Processing these images underwent a number of cleaning processes and adding lens blur to remove some of the scratches in the background (except for Qtar 3).

Finale

My mind is scrambled right now after all the dramatic events. Somewhat the world doesn't mean much for me. I don't feel it. But in the middle of all this sway and trying hard to concentrate and to work on something I like, to take my mind off from my personal problems, despite the fact that my work of art would mostly reflect some of the personality side, as in Lovely Pain.
On the other hand, my addiction to games is increasing as well as a way to escape reality (and people), as well as my worries. What does the future hold? Would I be able to see the outside world again? I'm going back to work by next Sunday, just to add more to my mental struggles…

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Fakhroid Muse…

Well, schools are back here and traffic jams as well of course. The typical "normal" life I usually lead is here. What is not normal for me now is the fact that I'm not traveling this year anywhere. No plans so far.
My friends urged me to follow them to Germany for Photokina event (even if not from the very first day of the opening) but anyway I couldn't just skip everything on my shoulders and fly away; beside the budget that I'm trying to manage. According to news, our club did pretty well and the most astonishing part is the fact that we are the first "club" to participate in the history of the expo, and the first Arabian party to participate as well! Unfortunately, I don't have a proper coverage to post right now but I might try to get some for later.
Meanwhile, after ensuring that everything is going fine with the group, I asked for pardon from the founder to withdraw for a while from all the activities in the group, mainly to touch my camera more and create something.

Muse

My hands and mind are eager to work with some panorama, but the lack of locations in mind still put a block on my way. To find some rest, I decided to try to work on something at home and try hard to push my imagination further. For this reason, I've started to attend the theaters for a while, but the most significant effect took place via music, and specifically, Arabic classical music.



I've been fascinated lately with his voice: Sabáħ Fakhry [صباح فخري]. Even though I do remember watching him on TV when I was just a kid but I wasn't much into this art back then of course, and my mentality had changed drastically since then of course. His voice and the lyrics of the Syrian folk songs as well as the traditional classical Arabic Mowaššaħát do make a mesmerizing mix; specially the song posted above, with the title Send Me A Letter. I will type the lyrics at the end of this post if dear non-Arab reader wishes to know what the song is about.
Listening to Sabáħ would eventually form some ideas and created a sort of muse inside my head, but still lot of work is required to perfect this sense. My first trial is sloppy but I will post it here anyway, since this is all I could do for now; and probably I will try to make it better next time if I get any new "museful" input! 

إن كنت هويت ونسيتني
(if you have loved and forgot about me)
Sigma 70-300mm @120mm, 250-1sec, f/29, ISO100
In the beginning, I was thinking of something with a romantic look, but my mind doesn't wander much into that arena. I wanted to point out a break of heart, some emotional breakdown of some sort, and after doing some tiny brainstorming, I arrived at the idea of reflecting a line from the lyrics off a broken mirror; the envelopes and drops of color (mimicking blood) came out later to fill some of the emptiness which was abundant around the writing. The hard time was delivered for breaking the mirror, placing the mirror, and placing the speedlite properly.
I decided to work here with my converted camera, and with a calibration from the WB disk, the colors were almost back to normal (some bits of color fixing was required later). The shot above is in fact a tone-mapped HDR slide, which after all, probably, wouldn't differ much from editing a single RAW file in a proper manner, but it was an experiment I loved to make. Later on, it was time to take "real" Infrared shots with this converted Canon EOS 7D…

 (IR) إن كنت هويت ونسيتني
(if you have loved and forgot about me)
Sigma 70-300mm @120mm, 250-1sec, f/11, ISO100

Now, because of applying the infrared filter on the Sigma lens, I had to decrease the f-number a bit to allow more light in and make the exposure faster (even though the camera was on tripod). The fact that the camera is converted would still, at such high f-number such as f/29, require a second or so for exposing with the infrared filter on (threshold=650nm). The drop in the f-number proved drastic in terms of depth of field here as the envelopes and the cracks as well got blurred quite easily while focusing (using AF function) on the reflection of the writing itself. Processing the image later was quite easy but fixing the tilt (unlike the first version) made some out-of-ratio crop (i.e. 3:2) and produced quite a space on the left side. The first image was cropped as well but according to the ratio (3:2) and the tilt was not fixed there.
Now, generally speaking, it was sloppy idea as I said before and I had some imagination for it to be taken with a candle and some quill and ink. However, seems, to me, that such depiction is quite "soft" and doesn't reflect the meanings behind a broken heart.



Listening again and again to Sabáħ Fakhry has some hallucinating effect to my mind, if I dare say. For my break from the group's activity, I'm thinking of getting inspired constantly from his songs (though lot of them are actually traditional and Syrian folk). Thus, I might as well continue to think of something to create out of the lyrics of his songs, or at least the first song posted above. Sounds weird that despite the fact that I'm an Arab, I'm indeed discovering my own culture like I've never seen it before, and even deeper a bit to the limit of reading about Arabic musical culture and Maqams, beside calligraphy (which is a passion as well). Sad to realize that we have a rich culture, abandoned by its people…

Finale

Well, I won't go strolling about life matters for now and all my ups and downs and mood swings. As I've mentioned above, I'm going to put the lyrics for the song above (first Youtube post). The language is colloquial Syrian Arabic, and in translating I'll try to stick to the meaning as much as possible (and of course no rhyme). Notice that some lines and verses are repeated all over and over again and that's why one song takes such a long time. Each repetition is supposedly done in a different vocal style or Maqam. The lyrics are as the following (but without an order of stanzas or lines):

Send me a letter and let me rest*
if though it is a blame
but don't abandon me

Your absence has been long
and I'm waiting
and your heart is in rejoice

If you have loved
and forgot about me
and been cruel to me
without consideration
Just send me a letter
and let me rest*

Been patience with you
and tasted bitterness
and sent to you news and news
just to find that
you have forgot about me
along the days
and you were satisfied
to let me through the pains
but send me a letter and let me rest*

I have a God who knows me well
Who will bring justice
for the heat of my sighs
I cannot say you are the culprit
I'll be patient with my sorrows always
just send me a letter and let me rest*
* "rest" as opposite to worrying about something or someone.

Well, I hope dear reader enjoyed some of the music for this post. I'll just hope that I'll create more work and get inspired more to work on some of these projects!