The Need for Less

When I started photographing, it was all about friends and fun. My gear was a Kodak Instamatic 126. Photography was all about friends and fun. It was about the moment, what we were doing. It was about girls I liked, too.

I remember a cold wet November Saturday. We were all students. Us guys were all Georgia Tech students, except my younger brother who I invited along, and girls were from Georgia Baptist School of Nursing (now part of Mercer University), and from Georgia State. We all hung out together almost every weekend.

So Tech was playing football out of town, getting slaughtered by Southern Cal, or UCLA, I cannot recall. It was a dismal day, so someone had an epiphany: ROAD TRIP! We grabbed some food and drinks, and my younger brother, we all piled into someone’s car, and off to north Georgia we drove.

We stopped along the side of the road several times. I took pictures. We ate under the cover of a an abandoned drive through. The food was cold, everyone was cold, but it was great. I took pictures. Then we explored other abandoned buildings nearby. I took pictures.

I don’t recall what town it was or used to be, but the buildings were old, abandoned, wooden, weathered from elemental decay, and almost fully consumed by kudzu.

Kudzu originated in Japan as arrowroot. It was brought to the States during the Depression to stop erosion. No one knows if that worked or not, because no one has seen the ground since, says Lewis Grizzard. I cannot find the citation for this quote. I just know he said it.

In Japan it is a fine looking ivy. In Georgia, kudzu has no natural enemies except goats. It is edible and it actually has a sweet smelling flower that blooms in September. Do not bend too closely to smell it. Kudzu will grab you, and you will not be found until many centuries distant, when some archeologist ponders your remains entangled in petrified vines.

Kudzu can be used to treat alcoholism with its accompanying hangovers. This is a great blessing. If you happen to be from places where kudzu grows – hard to imagine a place where it does not, you can distill your moonshine, with your factory all hidden away within the same kudzu patch from which you gather your healing tonic for the next morning, after a bender in the woods. Keep it handy.

Kudzu can relieve the symptoms of menopause. You can make clothing, lotions, and paper from it, and cook it like greens! With cornbread. Slap ya mama! Yum. …They say.

They also say it is disappearing from Georgia. Hard to tell, and sad if it is. I cannot imagine a Georgia landscape or an abandoned lot without it.

Back to the road trip. We made our last stop of the day at Etowah, where the Native American ceremonial mounds are located. A couple of us pulled out our guitars. Being true to the customs of college students in the late 60s and early 70s, and to their social gatherings and rituals, yes, we played and sang folk songs! I took pictures of that, too. Today, take a vid on your smart phone.

Those were simple fun times. What I have determined after years of photography and carrying pounds of camera gear, keep it simple and light. I used to spend all my time photographing what was going on. Oh, I was such a serious artist! That is not the same as making memories. I was an observer and not a participant in the event. That is not to say take lousy photos, but that equipment and technique should not interfere with life. Be aware of what you are there for. Reduce your fiddle time. Set the darn gadget on auto if needed and enjoy the moment.

I’ve gone too far now talking about kudzu and long lost memories. I’ll shorten the technical discussions.

Today, I usually carry no more than one quality point and shoot camera, unless I am trying to earn some money. I aim my creativity, the objects of my love and attention, toward my family and friends. Time is short, and I have realized time has become the only currency I really have left. I think David Crosby said that or something similar. I think it is true regardless who gets credit for the quote.

I spent intentional time with my granddaughter the other day. I took several informal portraits and snapshots, which I then sent to my wife, my daughter her mom, and to my other kids.

She tilts her head when photographed. My daughters did the same thing when they were this age. I do not know where head tilting comes from. It may have been poorly posed on my part. Actually I did not pose her at all. I did not intend to pose her more than she would tolerate.

Of course, I could not resist photographing what was going on, and I managed a decent shot of the musicians, below. I liked the other world looks on their faces as they played. I put some money in his open mandolin case, also. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t grab a photograph without paying due respect.

Musicians in the park

Here are the technical details: I took one small, quality point and shoot camera, a Canon G7x Mark II. I set the camera to aperture priority, ISO to 250, and f-stop to f8. In aperture priority mode, the camera sets the shutter speed for you. In sunlight I usually don’t worry about a slow shutter speed introducing motion blur. I wish I had shot it about f2.8 or f4 to have less depth of focus. I captured the images in RAW (Canon CR), as well as in jpeg for a quick post. I processed several of the RAW images in Photoshop Elements.

Let me discuss a tool in Photoshop RAW processing, both in Elements and in regular Photoshop; the luminance noise reduction tool.

If you sharpen an image at all, you’ll introduce “noise”, or what I like to call “digital grain”. It is not grain like silver based film had, but more like static. As you bump up the ISO, you increase “gain” and your images will appear grainy. Perhaps use this as a cute reminder: The higher the ISO, the higher the Gain, the greater the Grain. “Grain” is another anachronism, a throw back to simpler times and silver based processes.

Use the magnify tool and enlarge the image over an area of skin. Apply sharpening and notice the “grain” appear. Go to the luminance noise reduction tool and slide it from zero toward the right just enough to clear the skin tones of the noise, or digital grain as I call it. No need to apply more than you see in the preview. You will see the skin get more smooth.

Here are examples from the photograph of my granddaughter. Check the difference between skin smoothness in the first and second images.

In the first image, I had set overall sharpness to around 50, and the luminance noise reduction is set at zero. Can you see the skin looks bumpy. That is the noise that sharpening introduces to the image. The area shown is probably no more than a couple percentage points of the entire photograph.

Next take a look at the second image. I took the luminance noise reduction slider, moved it to the right to around 40, and the skin smoothed out.

Couple of things here. First, the skin is noticeably smoother than at the zero setting. Check the eyelashes in both images. The smoothing also reduced detail in the eyelashes. So we have a trade-off to consider. For me personally, especially in portraits of children and women, I opt for smoother skin over sharpness. For a man, I usually opt for sharpness and maybe a bit more micro-contrast. There are other considerations, but I think our conditioning and visual expectations lead us there. You may disagree. Go for it.

The effects of adjustment are more noticeable, given the same settings, in images with less pixel information than with more pixel information. To say it simply, your sharpness and noise reduction settings for your 20mp camera will be higher than for your 10mp camera, to get the same result. Check the preview closely and you should see the difference.

A digital Leica would be grand for such images as this. I could channel Cartier-Bresson and others. However in my opinion, Leica M ceased to be professional tools of almost decent prices years ago. Photographic wonders, built like an anvil, outlast most of us, but sadly more like a big chunk of bling. You may want that. A digital Leica M-E (entry to the club) with a standard lens, built in Wetzlar, new, will be nine or ten grand.

A Leica M. Ten grand. Really. I need it. No. What I really, really need is contentment. I need less.

The Canon does exceptionally well. I dropped it onto the sidewalk. No damage.

~ by Bill on August 12, 2019.

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