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Insane In The Membrane




Canon 5d MK3, 85mm 1.2L
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They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.  Let it be known that I'm insane. (please, with a grain of salt…)

I've been to the Ball's Bluff Park in Leesburg for about 10 years now.  I've shot thousands of images there.  Some of them good and some not so good.  Each time I gather my things to shoot there, in my insane mind, I'm thinking that I can comeback with something different.  So I go there with my same cameras, same lens, sometimes the same pants and of coarse the same dog. (see below)

Chiquillo, useless assistant not due to lack of intelligence, but due to absence of opposable thumbs.

So there I was pondering my insanity in the woods.  How can I get something different here? I've seen this park in the morning, day and night. In fogs, snow, rain, hail… Should I move on now?

Canon 5d MK3, 85mm 1.2L
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So I started to ask myself some questions, "What is worthwhile to photograph here?" "Where exactly is the beauty in this place full of fallen trees and heaps of rotting leaves?" Yes, I think rotting tree trunks can be beautiful too (see my past blogs) but like I said, I wanted something different.

I've read about the Golden Rule, or the Fibonacci numbers that says that in nature, there is a mathematical formula that is constant in many things like tree branches, our blood vessels, flower petals, and the most famous, the spiral of a nautilus.

Canon 5d MK3, 85mm 1.2L
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Yes, tree branches. I've always thought that our blood vessels and the branching of our lungs looks so much like tree branches.  Not only that, but flying at 15,000 feet, rivers on land resembles this pattern also.

Canon 5d MK3, 85mm 1.2L
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So this was what I was interested in.  As it turns out, this barren park in a cloudy day was perfect to show this pattern.  I gazed upwards.  In my countless times that I was in this park how many times did I look strait up? To be honest, I did a few times, but never pursued it. I'm guessing that my mind was not ready to see it, or knew how to capture it. 

Canon 5d MK3, 85mm 1.2L
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Technique

Using my 85mm 1.2L lens, I pointed the lens up. With its very shallow depth of focus, I was able to isolate specific branches in the midst of other branches that would have cluttered it and confuse its pattern. I was shooting almost wide open f 2.0, so focusing was critical.  

I used the Live View mode and zoomed in to critically focus before each shot.  Holding up the heavy 85mm 1.2L lens while doing a full back-arch did a number on my back, but I think it can strengthen the core muscles if properly executed. I should blog about it later. 

Canon 5d MK3, 85mm 1.2L
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I wanted some branches in the background to show.  That's why I didn't opt for fully opened aperture of 1.2.  Also I wanted to do large prints so image quality was a factor.  As you may already know, all lenses lose some quality when they are fully opened.   

Post Processing

I worked the image in photoshop. I played with the levels (the output levels of different color channels) to get the background to have a color, as opposed to just cloud white.  That was why I was careful to not blow out the highlights in the sky when photographing.  I knew that I needed information in the sky to work with it in the computer later on. 

This technique of messing with the output level is different than "toning".  In toning, you are placing a color tint on more or less on the mid tones of the image, so the brightest and the darkest areas will be less affected.  Messing with the color output level is about placing a limit on what color will be shown on the picture at a certain brightness.  Instead of me trying to explain, tinker with it yourself.  'Experience best teacher…(Confucius).

I thought having this darker "cream base" almost mimics older photographic methods like albumen print and daguerreotype, but not so much so that the photos becomes more about the process.  I also thought this application pushes the idea away from "reality" so that we don't ponder where this is shot, what kind of tree it is and soforth. 

Canon 5d MK3, 85mm 1.2L
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I'm pleased with its simplicity and its minimalist approach of these photos.  I also like the fact that it looks abstract but organic at the same time.  Anybody agree? or am I insane? Where is that salt...

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