Editor’s Note: Thank you to all our participating photographers! Selected prints will be invited to participate in a photography show in October 2013 at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center.
Plugged In, by Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter
Generally, the “Fall into Winter” photos that caught my eye were photos in which the traditional “rules” were disregarded in order to capture the strongest possible composition.
Edward Weston, certainly one of the 20th century’s premier photographers, once defined good photographic composition as the “strongest way of seeing.” Good composition is not a set of cliched rules to be followed to the letter in the same uninspired manner used in filing out a tax return.
Using the EXIF data found in the photos, I was able to gain some general information about the cameras and lenses employed as well as how the various photographs were exposed. However, don’t fear Big Brother — your EXIF data does not include names, unless you intentionally programmed them into your camera, nor location data unless you have an activated GPS in your camera, and only one winning photo had either name or GPS data. (By the way, deployed military and their families are all advised to deactivate the GPS in any camera because posting photos that include GPS data can result in dangerous security breaches for both service personnel and their families back home.)
The basic lens, camera and exposure EXIF data allows us to draw some helpful technical conclusions that complement the more evident aesthetic and compositional ones.
Perhaps most significantly, so far as I can tell all of the placing and honorable mention photographs apparently were taken using large-sensor cameras, mostly digital SLR cameras of varying ages, although some Olympus Micro Four-Thirds cameras also did well.
We can draw two possible conclusions from this — either technically adept photographers with an already-practiced “eye” tend to use large-sensor cameras because of superior image quality, or the superior image quality of large-sensor cameras simply resulted in better-looking photos regardless of who took them. I believe that the former alternative is the more nearly correct conclusion — the photographs that most caught our attention show the experience and good “eye” of our successful entrants.
Best in Show: “Ice Formation,” by Vickie Tinker, of Soldotna. “I took a series of photos by laying my camera right up against the ice on Denise Lake on Nov. 4,” said Tinker of her series of ice photos. “The sun was bright and the ice clear. This was over a lily pond and these bubbles are from the escaping gases.”
- Joe Kashi: “Ice Formation” was everyone’s immediate favorite, mine as well, even though it breaks a few of the tonal gradation “rules” tossed at beginning photographers. Although it’s evidently a realistic rendering of a natural subject, patterns frozen in clear lake ice, the overall sense of the photo is quite abstract because we don’t have enough surrounding context to provide clues about what we’re seeing. The absence of the larger context for this photo forces us to study it more closely, in an attempt to understand what’s pictured. That also forces us to react primarily to its lines and tones rather than as a known object. I find this photo extremely dynamic, with a tremendous feeling of uncontained energy — the very bright parts have virtually no highlight detail but, in this case, that adds to the sense of unbounded energy. The angle of the photo is just right, placing the apex of the very bright void in the upper left center, with other elements curving back from the right side toward the bottom center left, helping retain your focus within the image for a longer time. There’s good detail and nice gray tones in the main structure while the very dark background nicely sets off the bright subject, emphasizing it.
- Ray Lee: One of the more difficult aspects of photography in contemporary society is capturing something idiosyncratic enough to make the observer do a double take. Not only does this spur curiosity in the way of its origins, it leaves room for the imagination to re-enact its happenings. The “what, where and how” are an enigma, and art tends to flourish on group appeal and its unanimous wonder. This piece is expressive and unique. Not only does it force your mind to think, but it makes you want to think.
- Zirrus VanDevere: This was an easy call for me. The image is dynamic and intense without being off-putting. The tiny details invite one in to look closer, and the combination of deep, rich colors and delicate lines and texture in a tight composition make for a varied and interesting closeup of gas bubbles under ice.
First Place: “Ice Bubbles,” by Laura Rhyner, of Kenai, was taken Oct. 28 of bubbles in
lake ice at the top of Hideout Mountain.
- Joe Kashi: “Ice Bubbles” doesn’t really break any fundamental “rules” but it’s one of the most interesting images that I can recall of rapidly freezing ice and the bubbles forming in it. This image really caught my eye when we first examined the entries, and it still does. “Ice Bubbles” uses a 15-mm-focal-length lens, nearly an ultrawide-angle lens on the Canon XT, to capture just the right number of ice bubble columns in a strongly convergent manner where the bubbles deeper in the ice, thus farther away from the lens, create a strong focal point near the bottom of the frame. This is the sort of photographic composition that makes use of strong convergence rather than trying to control that geometric “distortion.” This photograph would have been much less interesting if the geometric convergence had been straightened later with post-processing software like Photoshop.
- Ray Lee: This has a very extraterrestrial feel to it. You know there’s a surface, but you lose yourself in the center of the image. Your mind makes you feel like there’s movement. This is another photo where you can let loose your imagination. The image is distinctively detailed, and the contrast is vivid. I particularly like how there doesn’t appear to be an ending point to the scene, like it’s bottomless. And it demonstrated fantastic color balance.
- Zirrus VanDevere: Looks like more gas bubbles under ice, but it doesn’t really matter what the subject is, the image is so crisp and the composition so well chosen it stands up as a beautiful object in and of itself, like an abstract painting might. The minimal palette of complementary colors (blue/orange) with the feel of the round disc shapes expanding in some sort of magical universe is entirely enchanting.
Second Place: “Aspen Leaf, desaturated,” was taken off of Gaswell Road by Orion
Satori, of Soldotna.
- Ray Lee: The detail in this is magnificent. Everything seems connected, like it was artistically laid out (which makes it all the more unique knowing it isn’t). Many advanced photography techniques were utilized — different layers of lens focus, vibrant pigments that complement each other and a stable, well-proportioned contrast. The accent on the shadows (particularly encircling the dewdrops), are what really boost the unique aspect in this photo.
- Zirrus VanDevere: Once again, clarity is the key to the awesomeness of the photo. In it, the severe blurring of the other elements in the photo (from a short depth of field) amplifies the crispness of the drops of water on the leaf. The fact that the leaf is irregularly shaped adds to the mystery of the piece, as well as aiding the general composition. The dark, serious green of the leaf also is enticing, and gives a mature slant to the subject somehow.
Third Place: “Eyesicle,” by Jeff McDonald, of Kalifornsky Beach Road.
- Joe Kashi: “Eyesicle” shows the effect of compressed perspective. However, what I find most interesting about this photograph is the intense focus on the horse’s frosted eyelash, greatly enhanced by the out-of-focus foreground and background areas typical of images made with telephoto lenses used virtually wide open, in this case at f/2.
- Ray Lee: A very timely shot. Well-captured and with appealing subject matter. Not only is this unusually sharp for creatures in constant motion, it emanates a sense of serenity, that the horse felt eased enough to still in the presence required for such an image. Of course, the frost on the lashes is just plain cool. Kudos for achieving a picture sharp enough to identify every strand of hair.
- Zirrus VanDevere: The short depth of field works really well with this close-up of a horse’s eye, as well. Even the small span the frozen eyelash makes into space doesn’t hold the focus entirely. There is a lot of emotion one can read into the expression, even with such a limited view. And the colors are soft, cool and inviting.
Tie for Fourth Place: “Falling,” by Jennie Barenholtz, of Kenai, shows autumn colors dancing among glowing aspens along the Sterling Highway on Sept. 13.
- Joe Kashi: “Falling” appealed to me, even though nothing in the image seems sharp, breaking an obvious “rule.” However, it’s precisely that lack of sharpness and the limited contrast and tonal range that give this photograph an appealing, dreamlike sense. Generally, I prefer photographs in which the subject is quite sharp, and am prepared to buy cameras and lenses capable of such sharpness, but the lack of sharpness here is what makes the photograph work.
- Zirrus VanDevere: I love the abstract effect in this shot, and the fact that I can’t tell how it was made, but have the sense that it was a straight shot more than digital manipulation, makes me love it all the more.
Tie for Fourth Place: “Birdhouse in Birch Tree,” by Clark Fair, of Sterling.
Ray Lee: The content and angle may all be a common subject for an image, but this one nails the intention. The background includes a patterned forestry with tufts of cottony clouds peaking through the branches. Another aspect worthy of praise is the placement of the branches. There’s not “too much” or “too little.” Pictures with pastels are becoming less desirable, but this one is resplendent in the art. The photographer ought to be proud for having captured the picture how he or she did. The placement of the sun was ideal, making stupendous highlights and leaving the main content dark enough to distinguish.
Tie for Fourth Place: “Frozen Fall,” by Sue Biggs, of Soldotna, was taken Oct. 12 of leaves frozen in ice that had been shaped by bubble wrap over the garden.
- Zirrus VanDevere: I’m almost always intrigued by layers, and this image has a number ofthem. Usually this kind of complexity is created with mixed media, so understanding that this was a single capture without any apparent trickery pleases me. I’m not completely sure of what I am looking at in this shot, which allows my imagination to roam a little.
- Joe Kashi: I like “Frozen Fall” quite a bit. The two patterns, dry autumn leaves and what appears to be bubble wrap, are nicely juxtaposed against each other. One pattern is obviously man-made and one natural. Combining the two, in what appears to be a constructed, rather than found, photograph, works well in this case.I have only a few technical thoughts. The photograph is properly exposed and the background appropriately blurred by limited depth of field. Given the obviously adequate lighting, I don’t understand why the photograph was taken at ISO 3,200, the sensitivity where image quality usually starts to degrade, even with dSLR cameras capable of good high ISO imaging. A tripod might have been useful here, allowing a lower ISO setting and a smaller lens aperture for better depth of field, while ensuring precise positioning of the plane of focus in this close-up photograph, always a consideration when taking close-up photos.
“Illiamna’s Gold,” taken at twilight Nov. 28 at Kasilof Beach, and “Black Sunday’s Shine,” taken at a cemetery along Kalifornsky Beach Road on Nov. 25, both by Denny Coyle, of Kasilof.
- Joe Kashi: “Illiamna’s Gold” is one of the more interesting seascape/landscape photos that I’ve seen in a while. The traditional “rule of thirds” suggests that the horizon should be placed about one-third of the way from either the top or the bottom of the picture frame. Doing so usually gives a balanced photo in which either the distant sky or the foreground land or water is emphasized but not overemphasized. This shot breaks that rule, showing only a tiny sliver of sky and greatly emphasized the near foreground water and gentle surf. That approach gives a smooth and lovely tonal and color gradation.
Joe Kashi: To the contrary, “Black Sunday’s Shine” follows the “rule of thirds” rather closely and it works here, with a balanced photograph that attracts and holds attention. I particularly liked the strong separation between dark, blurred background and sharp, strongly lit foreground cross caused by the very low-angle light from the late autumn setting sun. Without that strong contrast between subject and background, the photograph would have been much less striking.
- Ray Lee: In “Black Sunday’s Shine,” the color contrast is extreme, yet the hues remain within their boundaries and don’t interfere with one another. The lighting doesn’t correspond (light sources varied), adding an unusual (but commendable) artistic element. Lighting is the key to this image. You can skew it to a high exposure for a soft, angelic feel or darken it to produce a macabre eeriness. The symbol (subject) of the photo is obviously produced by loving and caring people for a passed individual, but the deep shadows and sanguine sunlight make for a beautifully foreboding scene.
Zirrus VanDevere: “Illiamna’s Gold” seems to be a complicated statement about a simple image that we’ve seen many times before, but in this case is made new by the angle of the shot and the nice catch of the rolling tide and understated but brilliant sunset.
“Snowflake, Arc Lake,” was taken by Sarah Goodwin, of Sterling.
- Zirrus VanDevere: “Snowflake, Arc Lake” is another powerful close-up. Soft blues in background compliment the orange of the cattail. The ice crystals are delicately captured and the severely limited depth of field adds visual interest.
“Last Ray of Autumn, Bottenintnin Lake,” and “Early Frost, Arc Lake” were taken by Jennie Barenholtz, of Kenai.
- Joe Kashi: In “Last Ray of Autumn, Bottenintnin Lake,”the subject is rendered with extreme sharpness. In this photo, the background is completely blurred by the limited depth of field inherent to the telephoto lens used to make this image. That causes the sharply
rendered subject to jump out even more. The strong color contrast between the bright yellow subject and the muted gray background also creates a strong sense of presence and a sense of the subject “jumping out.” I am not sure why the photographer used a very long exposure time and very small, f /25 lens aperture here, because a very small aperture greatly increases depth of field. That increased depth of field usually results in a less-blurred background, and that would have countered the most interesting aspect of this photograph.
- Joe Kashi: “Early Frost, Arc Lake”though, is by the same photographer, who again uses a f /25
lens opening to achieve very great depth of field, resulting in a fairly sharp image from nearby foreground objects through the farthest fine detail. Ordinarily, using very small lens apertures, on the order of f /16, f/ 22 or even smaller, results in unavoidable sharpness degradation as a result of a physical phenomenon known as diffraction. However, using that very small f /25 lens aperture works for this photograph, keeping foreground through background reasonable sharp. As a matter of general practice, though, assuming that your depth of field is adequate, f/5.6 and f/ 8 are usually the sharpest lens apertures for dSLR cameras using APS-C sensors (Nikon, Canon, Pentax and Sony) while compact-system cameras using Micro Four-Thirds sensors (Olympus and Panasonic) are usually sharpest between f/4 and f/5.6. Compact cameras using smaller sensors are typically sharpest between their maximum aperture and f /5 or so.
- Zirrus VanDevere: In “Last Ray of Autumn, Bottenintnin Lake,” the sunlight on the leaves has been perfectly captured, and the misty dark and slightly irregular background creates the feeling of dichotomy.
In “Oldman’s Beard,” lichen is hanging from spruce trees in the early winter light after a heavy nighttime accumulation of hoar frost, taken Nov. 13 near Johnson Lake in Kasilof, by Wade W. Wahrenbrock, of Sterling.
- Ray Lee: Nice layering. The different distances are identifiable by each object and they add a balanced content to the wholeness of the image. It’s sharp and intricate, deliciously geometrical and contrasted. And there is fantastic substance of frost and shadow.
“Reaching,” by Clark Fair, of Sterling.
- Zirrus VanDevere: Almost has the dynamic tension of “The Touch of God” from the Sistene Chapel. The point of view causes the simple plants to look grand and majestic. The simplicity of the monochromatic color scheme makes the image more powerful.
“Flyer Weed” and “Redoubt Repeater,” by Jeff McDonald, of Kalifornsky Beach Road.
- Joe Kashi: “Flyer Weed” and “Redoubt Repeater” are an interesting set taken with the same
camera. They nicely illustrate how your choice of lens affects the perspective of a photo and, hence, how a photo looks. Wide-angle lenses tend to stretch the image, greatly emphasizing foreground objects, while telephoto lenses tend to compress foreground and background, making the background appear to be relatively larger and closer than it would to our naked eye. “Normal” focal length lenses look, well, normal. In this set, “Redoubt Repeater” is the image made with a 28-mm equivalent wide-angle lens, whose bright red, optically
emphasized shotgun shell holds our attention even as we can see the tidal flat context and de-emphasized background objects, like the black dog and Mount Redoubt. “Flyer Weed,” taken with a 50-mm equivalent normal lens, shows a landscape with a fairly normal perspective and object/size relationship. I liked it for a different reason, one where breaking the rules resulted in a more interesting photograph. Notice the purplish colored blotches along the right side of the intense sunlight — these occur when an extremely bright light source, such as the sun, causes lens “flare,” unfocused internal reflections back and forth among the various pieces of glass that comprise the overall lens. Usually, lens flare is considered to be an optical defect. Some lenses, including the one used to make “Flyer Weed” are more prone to visible lens flare artifacts than others. Here, though, the photographer used lens flare to advantage, adding an unusual element to the photograph.
- Ray Lee: The vertical level “Redoubt Repeater” was taken at was ideal. It also feels like the main points of interest (the bullet casings, dog and mountain) are a trail leading to the volcano. There’s not a point of dullness — everything is pleasurably equalized and the contrast, color and sharpness are admirable.
- Local attorney Joe Kashi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and his law degree from Georgetown University. He has published many articles about computer technology, law practice and digital photography in national media since 1990. Many of his technology and photography articles can be accessed through his website, http://www.kashilaw.com.
- Ray Lee is a student at River City Academy and has been accepted into the six most recent “Rarified Light” statewide juried fine art photo exhibitions since 2007. In addition, Lee has exhibited her photographs in two shared gallery exhibits and one solo show.
- Zirrus VanDevere is the exhibits and cultural coordinator at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center. She has bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and education.