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Thursday, July 02, 2009

posterization

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My brother Bennett, who died in 1996, would be gaga over technology now. He had a personal computer before most people and was close friends with one of the early technicians of the Internet (no, not Al Gore). Besides being a computer geek he was a stellar amateur photographer who serves as inspiration for everyone in my family who takes pictures. As a 14-year-old I sat on the floor of our parents' living room spellbound watching slides from his college trip to Europe in 1970, especially captivated by Lautterbrunnen, Switzerland, a tiny hamlet in the narrowest and deepest valley in the world at the foot of the Jungfrau. (I was so smitten I took the same study abroad trip five years later.) Then after he graduated college he used to stay up all night developing photographs in the dark room he'd set up in Mom and Dad's basement.

One of my favorite projects was when he posterized photos, including one he took of Rembrandt's Dutchmasters painting in Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum. The original is above, and Bennett's posterized image is at the right. It's very 1970s-looking. (Sorry, my photo of it has some lamp flare.)

Posterization - which can be intentional or not - is when tones that are gradual in a photo become more abrupt and distinct with flat areas of contrast. When it happens by accident and is unwanted, it's called "banding." When it's intentional, think Andy Warhol's silkscreen of Marilyn Monroe, below. Actually the process of posterization reminds me of silkscreening.

When Bennett did posterization purposely in his dark room, he had to create several separate high contrast negatives and positives for each layer of contrast. It took hours to create one posterized image. The negatives and positives have to be paired and aligned on the photographic paper. I remember several piles of discarded attempts with misaligned layers of color scattered around the darkroom floor.

I often wonder if Bennett were alive, what he would think of digital cameras and digital photo processing. He was so fastidious about his film images, would he have chafed at the easy manipulations I do on PhotoShop and picnik? And would he prefer that particular quality of film that is lost in digital? I appreciate film photographs, but I'm grateful I don't have to practice on film and can delete thousands of digital images without a care for expense.

My preference for a photograph is an image as close to what the eye sees as possible, but it is also fun to play with processing and create an image that enhances what you see in some way. I almost always adjust levels of light and dark and contrast before posting photographs.

Here is an untouched digital photograph of a clematis flower on our farm.















This second image is after cropping it in PhotoShop to make a more pleasing composition (although I kinda like it uncropped too), adjusting levels of light and dark, as well as some highlight/shadow adjustment. Then on picnik I used the Orton effect then desaturated it a little.

Below is my posterization of the clematis flower done on picnik. Still at picnik I added frames and then did that "tearing up" of the frame I like doing on PhotoScape.


I recognize and appreciate beauty in other people's work that I will probably never replicate - either because I lack their imaginative powers (for instance rauf for his eye, skill and human connection, and Claudia, for her craft, composition and imagination), or because their style isn't my style, though I might still love their work, like Garry Winogrand.

I am not a trained photographer. I use "auto" settings most of the time and am hopeless at learning the rules about aperture and the rest. The way pianists "play by ear" I "shoot by eye"with a camera. But until I take Photography 101, I guess passing a quiz isn't important.

If you want to play and pay use Adobe PhotoShop, or you can use free downloads like PhotoScape and online tools such as picnik. There are many other tools, and if you use one and want to share, please leave info in a comment.

Here is a quote from David Bailey (extraordinary work), to remind myself (but not to reflect negatively on my dear painter friends who need insight and imagination too):

It takes a lot of imagination to be a good photographer. You need less imagination to be a painter because you can invent things. But in photography everything is so ordinary; it takes a lot of looking before you can learn to see the extraordinary.





Here is Bennett in a rare photo.
Man, I wish I could talk with him.


65 comments:

Susan said...

Thanks, Ruthie, for that lesson. I had no idea what posterization was. I'm so bad at getting aperture settings and stuff right, too. David has explained it to me countless times, but it just goes in one ear and out the other. Auto setting is my dear friend!

I like the photo of your brother. He looks as if he could have come from the 19th century.

Ruth said...

Susie m'dear, I think it would take lessons where I would go out and practice one lesson at a time until I got it to really understand how photography works. My head gets mixed up with the counter-intuitive stuff, like stopping down. Bleh.

I agree, Ben looks like Walt Whitman or a mountain man. He was a counter-culture guy (except he did love technology).

Pat said...

I would have to think that Bennet would have dove right in to the whole digital camera revolution. He'd be taking pictures in RAW, HD, etc. LOL!

I love photography, too! I am taking a photography class on line now. I still say it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks. It's certainly not just picking up the camera and shooting! But - I'm trying. At least I feel I have the "eye" for pictures. We'll see.

I love the postering effect, too. I've used it on a few of my photos. I love the look on your photo of the clematis.

Trudi said...

I use picnik when I feel like editing my photos. I think I found it from reading your blog. Thanks!

The Bug said...

I really like posterization too - I've spent hours on the same photograph trying different things & it's great fun - and often very beautiful, like your flower.

Amy said...

What's amazing to me, Ruth, is that Nicholas brings up Bennett's name every now and then. Bennett had passed before Nicholas was even conceived, and we probably mentioned Bennett's passing once, in response (probably) to a question about all of mom's brothers and sisters. And for some reason since then, he has a connection with Bennett, remembers his name, remembers that he died and reminds me of it every once in awhile. I find it very interesting and it makes me wonder if they actually DO have a connection!

NJ said...

Ruth, what you say is so true. As someone who has just really started taking pictures since Christmas when I got my "own" camera it is so hard to make a picture come alive. I look at the perspectives that some people take and think how come I couldn't have thought of that or made my picture like that. Maybe in time my eye will come.

Lover of Life/ Nancy said...

Geeze, I just snap the shot and hope it turns out. Thanks for the photography lesson. Sorry about the loss of your brother.

Tom and Cindy said...

I am so sorry for the loss of your brother. He surely must have had a keen mind. I love looking at your photos and reading your blog. I have been a little stretched on time to do so (Dad w/ cancer) but will be doing better in the future.
Thanks for sharing a part of your life.
Cindy

Loring Wirbel said...

It's hard to say if Pat's right, or if Bennett would have rejected digitization as the easy way out. You get folks on both sides of the chasm, even if they've spent their lives in film. I know plenty that were lamenting the death of Kodachrome last week.

A lot of manipulative graphic artists like to live their lives in two tracks - the useful digital path to getting things done, and the analog craft. I respect the people that reject one path (usually digital path), but it seems a bit puritanical.

You didn't say how your brother died. He liked computers and the Internet, did he like the way desktop graphics were progressing? This whole post is fascinating.

Ruth said...

Pat - oh, yes! Raw. I think you are right. My nephew Paul is a photographer who takes his only in raw mode, he's very meticulous, and makes me think of Bennett often.

Cool that you're taking a class! Good for you. Maybe one day I will. We have an excellent photog program in our community college. In fact Bennett used to teach courses there.

Have fun!

Ruth said...

Good, Trudi - I'm glad to hear you are using picnik. It's way too much fun and I get distracted for long periods of time there. Like a picnic.

Ruth said...

Bug - some play video games, we play photo processing. And I have the sore wrist to prove it.

Ruth said...

Amy! Hello! Been a long time my dear. I'm so glad to see you.

Your comment is reminding me of all the mysteries surrounding Bennett's death, and how eery it felt watching things unfold. I think sometimes when a person dies suddenly, young, stories come up like this. It really pleases me that Nicholas feels attached to him somehow. I have some prints of Bennett's (like this one) - it would be nice if Nicholas could have one.

Ruth said...

NJ - you will keep saying that. There will always be someone who takes a picture you are jealous of. At least that's my guess. The truth is we each have a unique perspective and will take different photos, even of the same scene.

Ruth said...

NJ - that sounded weird. I meant that I keep saying that. Even if I improve my skills, I see photographs that are 10x better, and I wonder if I'll ever be satisfied.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Nancy. Yes, it was very sudden.

Ruth said...

Cindy - you did a terrific job on that photo shoot of Mallory, I'm impressed.

I'm sorry about your father, he's fortunate to have you there with him though.

Ruth said...

Loring, yeah. If he had gone the digital route - which I think he might have because he was very frugal and didn't have much money - I think he would have gone RAW and really gotten into the tech side of it. He always had a computer on and was showing the kids some new trick. In the last few years he had a video camera in his hands constantly. He treasured family snapshots and video. I think he cared more about documenting life stories than anything else at that point. He rarely did art photography in those last few years.

Ben died of severe arteriosclerosis - all four arteries were blocked. He died at the end of the day we cleaned out our parents house. He had been carrying heavy furniture all day. We were all heading to the Log Jam for supper, and we couldn't find him. Then we did. Lesson: don't trust stress tests that give you flying colors. You have to have the kind with thalium dye.

Babs-beetle said...

Being a keen photographer in the 60's and 70's, I rigged out the bathroom and used it as a darkroom to develop my films. It was a real feeling of achievement, watching the image slowly appear, then removing it from the developer at just the right moment to get that perfect picture. However, there was no way of knowing, with certainty, that you had taken a good photo until you developed it. Moments could be lost forever that way.

Digital photography opened up a whole new world and I'm sure your brother would have seen it's benefits too.

ds said...

Oh, so that's how you make those cool frames around your wonderful photos! A random way to begin, but there is so much in this post...I am so sorry about your brother; he looks and sounds as though he was a very interesting, creative man with a lot going on in his head and completely at home in nature. I think you followed him further than just to Europe!
Someday I hope to be able to take a photography class--right now, it's point, click...pray. Thanks so much for all of the tips and inspiration, and especially for sharing Bennett's story. A bloggy hug to you!

dutchbaby said...

I shoot with an elaborate point-n-shoot camera and always have it set to automatic. Like you, the aperture/shutter speed/ISO ratios confound me and I know I'm not nimble enough to adjust them in time to snap the photo.

I did take a PhotoShop class at our local community college and I found it most worthwhile.

I think your brother Bennett would have embraced all the technology that is now available. I'm so sorry you lost him so early. You must miss him terribly.

Love the Rembrandt and your brother's interpretation of it. I hope to stand squarely in front of it in a few weeks.

dutchbaby said...

P.S. I think your flower poster is wonderful.

Vagabonde said...

I just found your blog and the picture of your clematis stopped me. I have never heard of picnic or desaturation (I thought it was a medical term) but anyway, it looks great – I’m going to search for this. What stopped me as well is to see that you have 334 followers! This is really an achievement. I started a blog a couple of months ago and am still learning how to take photographs and not much else (I need to get some photo programs for touching my pictures). I’ll read more of your blog. I could not look at your Paris Deconstructed though, because since my mother passed away (in France) I don’t go there 3 times a years like I have done for so many years and I miss it too much (I was raised in the 9th area of Paris).

CottageGirl said...

You come from a very talented family, Ruth. You all seem to be well-versed in most any artistic endeavor.

I'm so sorry you lost Bennett at a young age. He would be so proud of his little sis now!

Peter said...

As you may have guessed, I also use automatic settings! I believe my camera is more gifted to find the right settings than what I would be! It's amazing what an artist can make, but now it's also amazing what you can do without being a real artist!

My ambition (if any) is for the moment only to illustrate a story so I don't work my photos that much, if at all! I have PhotoShop installed but never use it. I got advice by some friends to install PhotoFilter which is easy and nice to use. Uploaded it once for free, but can't find it now for free on the net.

I will have a check on the programs you propose; PhotoShop is "too much" for me ... at least for the moment!

Nice and good of you to link to Rauf and Claudia! Not posting so often and so regularly, but always a great pleasure to visit!

Ruth said...

Babs - ah, you are one of the happy dark room developers. It must be very satisfying and exhilerating when an image is perfectly exposed and developed. I remember Bennett talking a lot more about his frustrations than satisfaction though, because he was so humble - when an image blew us all away, he just couldn't express his pleasure. But we learned how to read it. There is one image I want to post here one day of a Greek Orthodox priest that won a show grand prize. I'm pretty sure he was happy with that one.

I agree I think he would have enjoyed digital photog a lot.

Ruth said...

You're perceptive, DS, but then I knew that already. I did follow Ben and still do in the path of photography, loving nature, and political worldview. In each his footprints are big and I don't veer far from the path.

Your summaries of literature give us the images we long for, and while I like having your photos too, it's your words that provide a look into another world. Thank you so much for the hug.

Ruth said...

Dutchbaby - what you wrote reminded me - once again - of Ben. He had the settings in his mind and fingers - I guess that comes with practice and experience.

Every time I learn and practice a new PhotoShop trick, I ask myself why I didn't learn it earlier! My kids have taught me some very helpful shortcuts. (And I've taught them some too.)

How nice you'll be in AMS! When you look at Nightwatch, please thank Rembrandt for me too.

Ruth said...

Vagabonde - oh thank you for your visit and comment. I would like to hear you speak it with your French accent. Your English is remarkable too. Ha, desaturation is just toning down the color a bit. I have to be careful if I post a photo on my laptop because the color is muted. Later sometimes I view a post on my work monitor and the color is far too bright/saturated.

How sad about your mother, and the loss of Paris frequently. I did not grow up there or lose a mother there, but I miss it very much too. Posting about it helps keep it alive in my psyche.

Ruth said...

Ah, CottageGirl, you hit it right - my family is full of talent. My mother's generation (and father's family too) especially, then our children's. My son and daughter, and nieces and nephews are just incredibly gifted. When we get together (like this weekend we will), I sit and listen and watch as they share the latest thing, and I am so proud and full of gratitude.

Bennett and I have a bond. I know that much of who I am is from following his lead.

Ruth said...

Peter, well you know how grateful I am for your automatic photos. You do a lot of work on collages so we can see more images of Paris in your posts, something I always want.

I received PhotoShop as a very kind gift, otherwise I would not have afforded it either. I think it is corrupted however, and I need to find the disc so I can reinstall it. There are some features that don't work right.

I do miss it so much when rauf doesn't post for a while - a big loss of thought provoking ideas and startling images of India. When he comes back it is always worth the wait. As for Claudia, just when I found her she slowed down almost to a halt. Sad for me! But I do browse her flickr photos often for inspiration (and some envy, I confess).

shicat said...

Hi Ruth, I'm surprised you use auto settings on your camera. YOur pics are always so beautiful

Love the photoshop/picnik clematis photo.Thanks for explaining.

We just got back from Leland and I just loved it. We also visited Douglas and St Joseph(for a friend's sons wedding) Michigan is just beautiful.
Of course I want to live in all of the above places:)


How are the wedding plans?

Enjoy the beautiful weather. I'm re-doing my back porch.

Arti said...

Thanks for a wonderful post Ruth, informative yet moving. Your brother was some artist. And I think it must run in the family. I've always enjoyed the photography and artistic presentation on your blog. Technology has offered us expertise and convenience, but it has also robbed away imagination and creativity sometimes. But of course, the real creative person nowadays would learn to use technology to enhance his/her art. Again, thanks for the post and your heartfelt reminiscence.

Oliag said...

That is a great photo of Bennett...so sorry of your loss of him so young...

This is a great post full of wonderful info...I love how you played with the clematis pic..I usually don't like overdone photos either but this is great! I have taken a couple of community ed classes on photography and certainly learned from them...and met some great people...I also learn lots from all over the web like right here! Thanks!

photowannabe said...

I have tried so hard to learn all about stops and lens and what to do when...but as they say "you can't teach an old dog new tricks". My poor son, I keep asking him the same questions over and over...so I stay on Auto and merrily snap away. Love my digital. Its given me the freedom to take as many and assorted pictues as I want. Wouldn't go back to film at all.
Thanks for your comment on the picture of yours that I love and the permission to print. I really appreciate it.

Bob Johnson said...

Your brother sounds very cool Ruth. I wish I could talk to mine as well, he was taken away very suddenly.

My daughter at first thought digital was a fad type of thing,will never amount to anything, I was always pushing it on her. She has since made the transition but still she loves film, she use to process her own stuff as well in a dark room.

ps, thanks for the links.

Sandy said...

I enjoyed this Ruth...reading about your brother was great and seeing your flowers...beautiful. I use to love to play around with Corel, haven't done that too much lately. You've inspired me to get back into it.

It's been awhile since I've hung out on the net much, so need to catch up.

Christina said...

Bennett was before his time. ; )

I adore your photography, always.
I'm so glad you share with us.
xo

rauf said...

i always saw the light on my palm Ruth, i am growing old and my vision is fading. I still make a mental calculation with the light on my palm though the digital camera takes away most of my worries. i felt that digital makes some mistakes. My eyes have started making mistakes too. i embraced digital happily as it suits my laziness.

Like Loring said i too was lamenting over the demise of kodachrome. But it was not open for manipulation the way digital offers. Printing a positive was a cumbersome and expensive affair. But the joy of projecting a kodachrome was indescribable. Paul Simon sang about it.

i have experimented posterisation a bit but gave up, thought i would take up later. That day may not come. You and Claudia are young, the technology is on your side, Claudia has a new camera, so there is no end to the imagination of both of you. Camera is just a tool.

mystic rose said...

Happy 4th, Ruth :)

Elliot said...

I'd never heard of posterization before. Thanks for teaching me something new today.

Ruth said...

Cathy - thank you. I do some post processing - they usually need enhancing.

It must have been gorgeous up in Leland. I was just in Saugatuck last week as you know but I didn't make it to Douglas, which is so pretty and quaint.

We just got back from dropping Lesley and Brian at the airport after a great weekend with them. There was a wedding shower. And we were able to firm up some of the plans for the wedding today walking around the farm, so that feels good.

I wish we could order a day just like this one for the wedding, incredible!

Ruth said...

Thank you so much, Arti.

I'm grateful for the ease of photo processing and publishing online. I wonder if I would do much if I had to work harder at it.

Ruth said...

Oliag, I go to your blog for inspiration, and to many others too.

I'm not sure why I'm feeling Bennett this year around his birthday more strongly than ever.

Ruth said...

You're welcome, Sue - if you print it out and frame it, I'd love to hear about it.

Ruth said...

I'm sorry about your brother, Bob.

I think maybe those who have tasted the dark room always appreciate it. I haven't done it, but I can sure understand it.

Ruth said...

Sandy, I hope you've been having fun with your grandchildren, and now a new one!

Ruth said...

Thank you so much, sweet Christina.

Ruth said...

rauf, with every small project I take on - an image, a piece of writing - I feel it could take me in another hundred, or a thousand, directions. I choose a path one day, and the next I might veer from it on another. Sometimes I wish I would stick on one path longer. My attention is easily diverted. I don't know much at all. You learned a lot about music, about amplifiers, about cameras, photography, history, geography, science - you can talk about anything. I think that's why your photographs and posts are so interesting: there is a lot behind them.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Mystic! I think it was the first 4th we didn't watch fireworks. I hope you had a good weekend.

Ruth said...

Elliot - hi and welcome. I love your comics.

Jane said...

Thanks for that. Ruth I lost my dear sister Pam in a plane crash a year ago July 3rd. We were like twins. It makes me feel like I'm not alone to hear that others have lost a sibling. thanks for sharing that, he looks lovely your Bennett. My fella's last name in Bennett.

Jane said...

Oh and I'm told we can still talk to them. But so far it's been too painful to try very much.

Ruth said...

Oh, Jane, how devastating. I hope the pain will lessen with time and that you will be able to speak to Pam. But I think you have to let your emotions run their course. There is some kind of healing going on in you even now, I think. In a way, your blogs were speaking to her indirectly. I see you haven't updated them lately, unless I missed the right spot. I do believe our sadness helps us understand the sadness of others.

California Girl said...

I jsut sent the Bailey quote to my husband. I think he has that ability as do you.

Your brother looks so sweet. That's quite a photo (70's?)

I like the clematis you posterized. It's quite beautiful.

Ginnie said...

This reminds me of son Mark who has never delved into digital photography because it scares him! He is the closest thing to Bennett that I know and loves film photography. I'm not sure what scares him about digital...it's as thought he's frozen and can't move out of his comfort zone. I imagine that he would be brilliant and would dream up stuff I can't even imagine. Sigh. Maybe he'd need to see Bennett making the cross-over, if he were still alive?!

Jane said...

Thanks Ruth how thoughtful you are.

Jeanie said...

This post really touched me, Ruth. Don't you wonder if Bennett is like a bit of a techy angel on your shoulder? You're right -- he sounds like the kind of guy who would go wild with all the options today. I'm glad you shared about him.

Ruth said...

California Girl, it could be even later than that, because he didn't change his looks much until he died, although his hair and beard got trimmed up a lot shorter. But I'm guessing 70s or 80s.

Thank you so much.

Ruth said...

Boots - Mark has spent serious time, energy and money on film photography. I can see not wanting to move out of that. And I bet having Bennett model the move might have been instructive for all of us.

Ruth said...

Jane, it's tough, really tough to move ahead.

Ruth said...

Jeanie - welcome back from Paris. It's been great fun reading your posts. Bennett introduced me to the love of foreign places. He read National Geographic and archeology magazines and was fascinated by other cultures.

shoreacres said...

Evening, Ruth,

I just sent Peter an email in case he doesn't see it in this post - Photofiltre is still available free, but the French spelling is used, as I have it here. I like to download from Snapfiles when possible, and they have a nice, explanatory download site for Photofiltre.

This is all so interesting, as I'm readying myself to post on the manipulated/non-manipulated argument that ebbs and flows. I've a set of Memorial Day photos I've worked with in different ways, and it's some of the most exciting work I've done.

If you enjoy thinking about photography and artistic process in general, Dissent Decree is a terrific new blog - Michael Smith is artist and photographer both, and just full of stimulating thought and perspective. http://www.dissentdecree.net/

I suspect your brother was much the same, and I understand the impulse to talk. My dad died in '81and every year I wish more he were still here. He'd love computers!

Ruth said...

Hi, Linda - I haven't heard of either Snapfiles or Photofiltre. You do a nice job at your site with photos.

I appreciate the link to Michael Smith's site. I need more time to give it justice.

I kick myself for not sitting with my parents and brother and just ask for stories. I was too young to know I needed them inside. Bennett knew, and he recorded Mom and Dad before they died.