About Me

My photo
Ansel Adams once said that a true photograph need not be explained, nor can it be contained in words. He then went one to write volumes about his photographs, and he would apparently talk about them to anyone who would listen. So much for pithy quotes. Since this is my blog, I will ignore Ansel Adams, and I will use this space to share the stories behind some of my favorite photographs: what I saw when I created the images, how the photos came to be, and why they are important to me. Consider this a behind-the-scenes look at my creative process. If you like what you see here, please visit my photography website: RobertBurnsPhotography.com

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cades Cove is one of my favorite places to photograph. The park service has preserved original homesteads and churches, and they make good photographic subjects. I usually don’t know how a particular site will look until I get there, so I just move from location to location, until I find something I like. On this morning, I arrived to find the John Oliver cabin bathed in golden early morning light, and I knew I was in the right place at the right time. In this image, I chose to place the fence in the foreground to draw the viewer’s eye into the photograph, leading it to the cabin. The fence also serves to frame the cabin. The surprise was the beam of light that streaks across the fence, also leading the eye to the cabin. The dogwoods in the forest are subtly illuminated, providing a nice touch of balance to the photo. The criss-crossed diagonal wood beams, and the shaft of light add energy and visual tension to this otherwise peaceful scene. This photo was a finalist in BetterPhoto.com’s contest for February, 2010. HDR photo from three images processed and tone-mapped in Photomatix Pro. Canon 20D f/22  ISO 100 28-200mm lens @35mm To purchase this photo, click here.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Grand Canyon in Morning Light 7-16-07

This photograph was taken at Grand Canyon National Park at 7:55 AM. A bristlecone pine on the canyon’s south rim frames the Colorado river which winds in and out of the early morning light on the canyon floor below. This photo was a finalist in BetterPhoto.com’s contest for February, 2010. Canon 20D f/29 1/8 sec. ISO 100 28-200mm lens @64mm. To purchase this photo, click here.

Rental Bike - Mackinac Island 9-10-16

I am currently taking an on-line course on High Dynamic Range photography, and this week’s lesson is on black-and-white imagery using  double tone-mapping techniques. Here is one of the results of my efforts. I like the gritty feel that this technique has imparted to this photo. No sharpening was applied, yet the details are exceptionally crisp. The texture of the wood grain, tire tread, and bird poop is exaggerated. The depth of this image is remarkable, considering that it is just a bicycle leaning against a wall. Technical aspects aside, I like this photograph because of the unanswered questions that it poses: Who placed this bike so carefully against the wall with the kickstand down? What is in the box with the name of a California winery visible across its bottom? The box is obviously water-damaged, and it has been exposed to the elements. It is warped and seems to have dissolved into the basket. So how long has it been in this spot?  Is it abandoned? Is it forgotten? Unlocked and unattended, this bicycle is captured here, resting in this spot forever, waiting for its rider to return. Canon 20D Single photo processed as a pseudo-HDR image in Photomatix Pro, then tone-mapped twice using extreme settings to produce a grunge look. Desaturated in Photomatix Pro to convert to B&W.  Nik CEP Darken/Lighten filter applied. f/8 1/200 sec. ISO 400 28-200mm lens @ 57mm

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Red Vine on Green Wall 10-3-07

What do you see when you look at this photograph? Do you see a red vine climbing a green wall, as the title suggests? Look again. Notice that the leaves on the vine are dry and withered, barely hanging on in their final days. Many of their companions have already departed. The green wall is losing its vibrancy. The stain is fading, leaving large gaps of exposed cedar. The window is covered with a shade that displays a faded floral print, a whispered memory of better days. Now look again. The house, though abandoned and neglected, is still standing. The vine will be reborn in the spring. Exposed cedar is prized for the beauty it displays as it ages. There is a wistful feeling of endurance and hope here. You just have to look for it. Canon 20D Photo taken at New Harbor, Maine on 10-3-07.  Single photo processed as a pseudo-HDR image in Photomatix Pro, then tone-mapped twice using extreme settings to produce a grunge look. Nik CEP Darken/Lighten filter applied.  f/16 1/25 sec. ISO 400 28-200mm lens @ 64mm Click here to view more pseudo-HDR grunge images.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Waiting for Customers - San Francisco 7-31-09

This is another one of my rediscoveries, or “rescue photographs” as I like to call them. Last summer, my wife and I traveled to San Francisco, and I decided to do some street photography in China Town. Walking along the back alleys, I encountered this barber reading the newspaper during a lull in activity. I liked the composition, although I ended up cropping it just a bit. The original showed the entire sign; the crop is a bit more intimate. However, I thought the light was too flat, and so I abandoned the photo and focused my attention on other photographs that excited me more, like those of the Golden Gate Bridge. Using the pseudo-HDR grunge technique on this photo has been revelatory, to say the least. If you are saying to yourself that this looks more like a painting than a photograph, then I agree. I always considered this photo to be a Norman Rockwell moment, but until now, I had not realized its full potential. Notice the details in the newspaper and the shoes. The colors are unrealistically vivid. The shadows are deep, and the lighting is dramatic. The grit of the back alley is palpable. For me, this slice of ordinary life is ten times more exciting than the Golden Gate Bridge. Canon 50D  Single photo processed as a pseudo-HDR image in Photomatix Pro, then tone-mapped twice using extreme settings to produce a grunge look. Nik CEP Darken/Lighten filter applied. f/8 1/13 sec. ISO 100 24-105mm lens @ 35mm Click here to view more pseudo-HDR grunge images.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Abandoned Truck in Field - Dayton, Tennessee 9-24-05

For the past week or so, I have been taking an on-line course on High Dynamic Range Imaging. As mentioned in an earlier post, I am currently revisiting past photographs and using HDR techniques to re-imagine them. I recently learned a new technique for creating “pseudo-HDR grunge” images from single photos. This technique doesn’t work well for all images, but when it does, the results can be spectacular. This photo is one of my rediscoveries. I originally went to Dayton to shoot apple trees at harvest time. A friend took me to one of the orchards and introduced me to the growers. While there, I photographed this old Ford pickup truck rusting away in a nearby field. If I were making this photo today, I would have taken at least three exposures and tried HDR processing to capture the full dynamic range of the scene. Instead I was stuck with this single-exposure photo, which until now was languishing on my hard drive. I had always liked the composition. It has that little “gotcha” moment when you discover the barn reflected in the chrome of the passenger side rearview mirror. However, I didn’t like the lighting. The grunge look suits this photo. The rust really pops. And that barn reflection has never looked better. Canon 20D f/5.6 1/400 sec. ISO 400 18-55mm lens @ 35mm. Click here to view more pseudo-HDR grunge images.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Iris 3-2-04

This is one of my earlier photographs, and it has a special significance for me. I had set up a small studio of sorts, consisting of a card table and a single Photoflex studio light. I obtained this iris from a local florist, and I placed it in a small vase with a piece of black poster board as a backdrop. My Canon Digital Rebel was mounted on a heavy metal tripod, and I experimented with angles and lighting by rotating the flower and repositioning the light source. In this photo, the light was to the left, angled from above and slightly behind the flower. If I were shooting this photo today, I would use a reflector to bounce some light onto the right side of the flower to fill in some detail in the shadows, especially those of the stem. But I really didn’t know about such things back then, and I didn’t yet know how to see a subject the way the camera sees it. I will never forget what happened next. After I finished this set-up and looked through the viewfinder: I gasped. Yes, it was an audible gasp. There I was in this dark room breathlessly admiring the luminous beauty of this flower, and I had yet to press the shutter release. Since that time, I have experienced similar rushes when composing a photograph that I knew was going to be special. But this was the only time I gasped, and I will never forget that moment. This is what I saw, with very little manipulation in Photoshop. Canon Digital Rebel. Photoflex light. f/22 0.3 sec. ISO 100 28-200m lens @110mm RobertBurnsPhotography.com

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Fishtown - Leland, Michigan 9-12-2006

In the past year or so, I have been experimenting with High Dynamic Range photography. HDR is a technology that allows the photographer to capture the full dynamic range of a scene, including details in the darkest shadows and the brightest highlights. Currently this technique is employed by shooting two or more images at different exposures, then combining them into a single tone-mapped photo. The results can be quite amazing. It just so happens that I have at least four years of photos that were shot using exposure bracketing, consisting of one normal exposure and two or more underexposures and overexposures. I am currently revisiting these earlier photographs and subjecting them to HDR processing. This photograph of Fishtown is a surprising result of my efforts. HDR imaging has rendered eye-popping detail in the cedar shakes, the mossy docks, and the rusty boats. The skies would have been blown out in a regular photo, unless a graduated neutral density filter had been employed to hold back the brightness of the sky. The alleys and the space under the docks would have been rendered pure black in the typical situation. But HDR has captured so much detail in these areas, that the resulting depth draws the viewer into the image, inviting the eye to linger and explore. Canon 20D HDR image from three exposures processed and tone-mapped in Photomatix Pro. f/8 ISO 100 10-22mm lens @20mm RobertBurnsPhotography.com

Portland Head Light (Maine) 10-3-06

Ansel Adams once said that there are two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer. The viewer of a lighthouse photograph often experiences a visceral reaction based on whatever meaning he or she attributes to the subject. Depending on one’s perspective, a lighthouse can be a metaphor for God, a spiritual leader, a teacher, a mentor, a parent, a trusted friend, a set of values, a guidepost, a ray of hope, a beacon of safety and stability, and even a symbol of male fertility.  As a photographer, I am a bit more pragmatic. I see a lighthouse as a visual focal point: an element of the photograph that is guaranteed to grab the viewer’s attention. A lighthouse is usually constructed and placed so that it towers above the surrounding landscape. This ensures that it captures, unencumbered, the first rays of the rising sun and the last rays of the setting sun. In this photograph, the late afternoon sun illuminates the lighthouse and makes it stand out from the surrounding landscape. Because the lighthouse is the brightest element in the image, the viewer notices it first. From there, the eye follows the S-shaped curves of the rocky coastline to the bottom of the photograph and then back up toward the lighthouse. The S-curve pattern is repeated in the clouds, mimicking the pattern of the shoreline. This is an HDR photo from three exposures processed and tone-mapped in Photomatix Pro. Topaz Adjust Mild Color Pop filter applied at partial opacity. Nik CEP Sunshine Filter applied at partial opacity. Final image adjusted in Photoshop. Canon 20D f/8 ISO 100 28-200mm lens @32mm. RobertBurnsPhotography.com

Friday, March 12, 2010

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse at Sunrise (Maine) 9-30-07

The composition of this image is deceptively simple, consisting of four elements: lighthouse, fence, sky and sea. But for me, it is all about the light. As I was making this photograph, the late September sun was rising to my left, bathing the scene with a warm amber glow. The resulting shadows in the window and cement add texture and depth to the lighthouse. The color palette, which is limited to shades of white, gray, blue and yellow, is reproduced in the sky, where the clouds form a mesmerizing back-and-forth pattern that grabs the viewer's eye pulling it into the picture and gently sweeping it out toward the horizon. Canon 20D f/16 1/15 sec. ISO 100 28-200mm lens @ 40mm  RobertBurnsPhotography.com

Mackinac Island 9-10-06

Here is another take on the Man vs. Nature theme. In this photo of two lighthouses at Mackinac Island on Lake Huron, Michigan, I placed the lighthouses at the bottom of the photo. Here the dark clouds dominate, rendering the lighthouses tiny and insignificant. For me, this scene evokes a feeling of isolation.  The early morning sun wraps around the mechanical lighthouse in the foreground, giving it a three-dimensional quality. The clouds are lit from below, adding depth and an ominous tone. Canon 20D f/10 1/160 sec. ISO 400 28-200mm lens @ 90mm RobertBurnsPhotography.com

Portland Head Light 10-4-06

Lighthouses were constructed to guide ships through treacherous seas. In a way, they symbolize the age-old theme of man vs. nature. In this photograph of Portland Head Light, I placed the lighthouse in the upper portion of the photograph to emphasize its position of dominance over the rocky Maine coastline. It has been situated here since 1791, and it is still functional. I took this photo at 6:28 AM, approximately 14 minutes before sunrise. It was a magical moment. There were a few locals and tourists strolling or jogging. But for the most part, I had the lighthouse and this overlook to myself.  Five minutes later, the pinks and lavenders changed to shades of blue, and the moment passed. I felt fortunate to have witnessed this glorious spectacle, and even more fortunate to have captured this photograph. Canon 20D f/8 0.6 sec. ISO 100 10-22mm lens @15mm RobertBurnsPhotography.com

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Laura at Graduation 5-16-05

I took this photo of my daughter on the day of her graduation from Emory College. The university ceremony had just ended, and the college commencement ceremony was to follow in about thirty minutes. To help me locate her, she called me on my cell phone, and she stood on one of the folding chairs so that she could be spotted above the crowd. I already had my 75-300mm lens mounted on my Canon 20D, and I told her to put down her cell phone so that I could take her photo. She beamed this smile of joyful exuberance and pride. It is that look of confidence and infinite possibility that makes this one of my favorite photos.   f/8 1/400 sec. ISO 400 75-300mm lens @300mm. Hand-held. Photo cropped, face lightened, surroundings darkened in Photoshop. RobertBurnsPhotography.com