Abstract Landscape Photography

Abstract Landscape Photography by Justin Black
Fønfjord Iceberg. Reflection detail of an iceberg in Fønfjord, Scoresby Sund, eastern Greenland. Nikon D810, AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR, handheld. Exposure: 1/250 sec., ƒ/16, ISO 400.

This may be controversial, but I will say it anyway: It is time to consider whether the world needs any more iterations of the famous, done-to-death, iconic, “big landscape” compositions. An online image search using keywords like “Mesa Arch,” “Yosemite Tunnel View” or “Tetons barn” will yield vast numbers of cookie-cutter, cliché pictures. Though some of these may be perfectly executed and may be valid as technical exercises for photographers learning the craft, at the end of the day they most often boil down to formulaic knock-offs of someone else’s original creativity. Photographs like these tell us little about the photographer’s own personal creative vision, and while they presumably seek to convey the beauty and serenity of wide-open wild places, they have too often been made while standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a mob of photographers jockeying for the classic perspective.

The reality, however, is that an infinite number of creative compositions are out there just waiting to be discovered through abstract landscape photography. Ever since I fell in love with photography about 30 years ago, I have been consistently intrigued by the unlimited potential to imagine, seek out and create compelling abstract compositions, whether in an exotic destination or my own backyard. Using photography as a medium to make abstract images poses the obvious challenge of reckoning with the photograph’s innate descriptive nature, but that also makes success all the more rewarding. An effectively executed and compelling abstract photograph is perhaps the purest demonstration of a photographer’s original vision, understanding of fundamental aesthetics and ability to move the viewer.

The Art Of Abstract Landscape Photography

Abstraction in art is all about stimulating thought and emotion using aesthetic characteristics themselves, rather than relying on descriptive information conveyed by subject content. As the painter Alan Soffer has said, “Abstraction forces you to reach the highest level of the basics.” It involves the act of prioritizing and employing essential elements such as color, tone, line, form, texture and the fundamental graphic considerations of composition, taking advantage of human visual cognition to compel the viewer’s imagination and emotions to think and feel in response to the work, deemphasizing or stripping away features that convey explicit meaning or objective facts.

Abstract Landscape Photography by Justin Black
Untitled. Basaltic Strata, Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Iceland. Nikon D810, AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR, Really Right Stuff TVC-24L tripod and BH-55 ballhead. Exposure: 1/50 sec., ƒ/14, ISO 400.

Abstraction isn’t dogmatic. It doesn’t tell the viewer what to think; rather, the aesthetic aspects of the image inspire a response. A common misunderstanding is that the underlying subject matter of an abstract image must be entirely unrecognizable, but an image can be simultaneously representational and abstract to varying degrees. It is more the case that the actual identity of the subject matter used in an abstract picture is largely unimportant, while the aesthetics are everything.

This raises the question of how to go about finding abstract compositions, and the answer is the same as it would be for any other kind of photograph: One can either go looking for inspiration and find images wherever one stumbles across them, or one can conceive pictures in advance, work out how they would need to be made, and then go out and execute them.

There are, however, some practices that I employ in the search for effective abstracts. First, in advance of visiting a location, I try to identify an inventory of available subject matter and themes that interest me, seasonal phenomena, light and weather conditions, and any other elements that I might take into consideration as I conceive images. This gets amended and updated on the fly once I am on location.

Ways To Achieve Abstraction

Qualities of light can suggest what sort of subject matter to look for. Diffuse light—overcast, shade, light bounced off a canyon wall, flash with a diffuser, etc.—tends to work well for rendering abstract designs and patterns inherent in objects, such as rock formations, vegetation, ice, flowing water and many macro subjects. On the other hand, the harsh contrast of direct sunlight can wreck some natural designs but create opportunities to use light itself as the subject, such as arrangements of shapes cast by hard shadows or patterns created by specular reflections and defocused highlights. Backlight can yield graphic silhouettes and can also be applied to good effect with fog, smoke, waves, leaves and translucent objects.

One of my favorite ways to create abstract designs is with motion captured during long exposures—the opportunities here are limitless. We are all familiar with long-exposure landscapes depicting silky-smooth flowing water, and the same technique can be applied to create abstract designs using moving clouds, groups of animals and just about anything else that will render a form or line as it moves through the frame over the course of seconds or minutes.

Abstract Landscape Photography by Justin Black
Arctic Dream. Floating through pack ice north of 81 degrees latitude, Svalbard, High Arctic. Nikon D810, Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM Art, Really Right Stuff TVC-24L tripod and BH-55 ballhead. Exposure: 15 sec., ƒ/16, ISO 64.

Very long exposures (30 seconds and more) can also be used to blur the texture of bodies of water or cloudy skies into even-toned backgrounds that provide clean negative space, against which other forms can be arranged.

Interesting results can also be yielded from the motion of the camera position itself, such as from a moving car, on a tripod on the deck of a rocking ship sailing through Arctic pack ice, or panned vertically by hand to turn an aspen forest into a series of vertical streaks.

On my last visit to the Southern Ocean, I took advantage of the brilliant pinpoint specular reflections of the sun on the surface of the waves to “carve” well-defined linear designs during a half-second hand-held exposure from the deck of the ship. Though the reflection was too bright to look at with the naked eye, a 10-stop neutral-density filter made the image possible.

At the faster end of the shutter speed range, reflections in water offer all sorts of opportunities. Particularly if the surface of the water is smoothly undulating, it can be a tremendous medium for transforming reflected colors and tones in the sky, an iceberg or perhaps a cliff-face illuminated by sunset light into elegant and colorful patterns. Fast exposures of the sun’s specular reflections on the textured surface of a babbling brook will yield fascinating patterns that look like they come straight out of string theory.

Abstract Landscape Photography by Justin Black
Aasiaat Steel. Cut steel plate scraps at the harbor in Aasiaat, Disko Bay, western Greenland. Five overlapping frames combined into one composition. Nikon D810, PC-E Micro NIKKOR 85mm f/2.8D, Really Right Stuff TVC-24L tripod and BH-55 ballhead. Exposure: 1/4 sec., ƒ/16, ISO 64.

Another tool we can use to build abstract designs is multiple-exposure. Although this technique was once limited to either film cameras or manual layering of images in Photoshop, more and more digital cameras today permit the photographer to merge, in-camera, several frames into a single composition. This enables the photographer to layer various compositions into one; for instance, combining views of a single object or shape viewed from different orientations or shooting multiple exposures of a moving object, such as a close-up golden aspen leaf quaking in the wind, and building up an abstract pattern of well-defined edges as it twists and turns. The same technique could be applied well to reflections on water.

Color is one of the key pieces of visual information that we use to identify things that we are familiar with in the world, and eliminating it can be helpful in the creation of abstracts. Imagine a black-and-white photograph depicting a purely abstract design that happens to include, as part of the composition, a puddle reflecting a cloudless blue sky. Now, convert that same image to color. Suddenly, the viewer is provided with a key piece of information that may diminish the purity of the abstraction. For the same reason, abstracts of ambiguous shapes in clouds tend to be far more effective when executed in black and white.

The Importance Of Composition In Abstract Landscape Photography

Regardless of the techniques applied, careful framing of compositions is perhaps never more important than in the case of abstracts. Conventional styles of landscape photography often conform to established compositional conventions suggested by the scene itself—imagine, for example, a mountain in the distance reflected in a lake in the foreground. But abstraction is unconstrained by a need to communicate in explicit, literal terms, and thus conveys greater creative freedom, and therefore greater creative responsibility, to the photographer. In other words, the photographer has to do more of the work, since the landscape itself is less helpful in suggesting the way in which it “wants” to be photographed. Commonly, the best framing of an abstracted natural subject will critically exclude unwanted elements that disrupt the illusion of the abstract design and return the image to grounded reality.

Abstract Landscape Photography by Justin Black
Ascending Bivröst II. On a Visionary Wild expedition based on a small ship in Greenland’s Scoresby Sund fjord system, Justin Black and Frans Lanting led the group ashore to photograph a brilliant and expansive Aurora Borealis display. After photographing compositions of the land and sea beneath the northern lights, Black turned his lens vertical to photograph the dynamic—and less literal—compositions directly overhead. Nikon D810, Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM Art, Really Right Stuff TVC-24L tripod and BH-55 ballhead. Exposure: 8 sec., ƒ/2.0, ISO 3200.

When seeking or refining compositions in the field, I spend a lot of time moving around using my fingers as cropping tools, changing my perspective and the crop to precisely carve out what I consider the ideal composition. In the case of the accompanying image, Ascending Bivröst II, rather than making a picture of Greenland’s mountainous landscape with the northern lights above, I chose to point the camera straight up into the sky to capture a more abstract, less literal image that I considered a stronger and more evocative design. Likewise, in the case of Aasiaat Steel, an abstract design I carved (compositionally speaking) out of its context in a jumbled pile of scrap metal in a west Greenland harbor, I spent several minutes carefully adjusting the tripod position and framing to retain the design elements I felt were most important while distracting and overly bright background elements were kept just out of frame. The final composition involved tilting the camera off-level for the best balance and visual flow. It’s about the design, after all. The fact that I found it in Greenland is largely irrelevant to the aesthetics.

Abstract Photos Are All Around Us

Alfred Stieglitz, an early proponent and practitioner of abstraction in photography, once said, “Wherever there is light, one can photograph,” and indeed one of the most inspiring things about delving into abstraction is that we can do it anywhere. My photograph Siberian Elm is a composition I discovered in a downtown park while taking a stroll through my hometown of Washington, D.C. It is one of those images that is simultaneously representational and abstract, still a straight photograph of a tree, but also something else. After finding the exact position and perspective for the composition, I made a snapshot on my phone as a “sketch.” The next day, I returned with my Nikon D810, a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens and my tripod, found the precise position again, and made five overlapping frames so that I could merge them to create a super-high-resolution file suitable for printing up to 8 feet tall. To some, the tree is clearly interpreted to be an Ent, an ancient race of walking, talking, tree-like creatures invented by J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings. I never imagined that I would encounter an escapee from the pages of a fantasy novel just a few blocks from the White House.

Abstract Landscape Photography by Justin Black
Siberian Elm. Washington, D.C. Five overlapping frames combined into one composition. Nikon D810, Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM Art, Really Right Stuff TVC-24L tripod and BH-55 ballhead. Exposure: 1/100 sec., ƒ/11, ISO 125.

The pursuit of abstract landscape photography opens our imagination, raises our awareness of photographic possibilities, and makes us better photographers, regardless of what our primary interests may be. It invites viewers to use the photograph as a mirror of sorts as well, contributing something of their own to the interpretation of an image made by another person using decontextualized subject matter that ranges from somewhat ambiguous to downright unidentifiable. Personally, I’m excited to discover what new visions I might see around the next bend.

The post Abstract Landscape Photography appeared first on Outdoor Photographer.

Win Anki Overdrive Supertrucks

Things have moved on along way from that Scalextric set you had as a kid. Anki Overdrive’s racing cars are remote controlled by your smartphone, but they use AI to make sure they stay on the track, leaving you to concentrate on beating your opponent. You can do this by overtaking them or blasting them with virtual weapons, including a railgun and mines that explode after a set time.

Because you’re playing with some seriously clever toys, you don’t just have to duel friends – you can also race one of 25 different AI opponents (though the track only supports four at a time). The better you play, the better these robotic racers become and regular software updates add new features to the game all the time. You can also reassemble and extend the modular track into any shape you like, adding corners, ramps, jumps and more, to vary up the gameplay.

While the Overdrive Starter Kit has been around for a little while, Anki have now added two more battle-racers to the fray in the form of supertrucks. Almost three times the size of Anki’s supercars, with weapons that can physically blast opponents off the track, these robotic rigs pit size and strength against speed and agility. The supertrucks also have their own game mode called Takeover, which allows any racer that can break through the lorry’s defences to take command of it and wreak havoc on their opponents’ supercars.

For your chance to win an Anki Overdrive Starter Kit, including two robotic supercars and a 12-piece track, plus a supertruck, answer the below question. The competiton closes 6 April 2017.

[insert_competition id=”15″]

Sponsored post: Elgato Eve Thermo offers comfort on command

Voice-controlled tech is hot right now, so it’s fitting that Elgato’s Eve Thermo allows you to control your heating with not only a tap of your iPhone, but also Siri commands.

Eve Thermo is a radiator valve that allows you to control temperature settings as well as set schedules to automatically heat your home. Eve Thermo comes with three preinstalled schedules, but creating and customizing schedules that complement your daily routine is easy with the free Eve app, which is available for iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch. Eve Thermo also records temperatures and presents them via beautiful graphs that allow you to track your energy usage at a glance of the app.

Potentially lowering energy bills and making it easy to keep your home cozy, Eve Thermo offers an instant upgrade for your radiators. Rather than a complicated installation, Eve Thermo simply screws onto your existing radiator and is powered by two AA batteries.

Eve Thermo connects directly to your iPhone or iPad via Bluetooth low energy technology, rather than a bridge or gateway. Taking advantage of Apple HomeKit, Eve Thermo offers ease of use, compatibility with HomeKit-enabled accessories from other developers, and advanced security for your smart home.

Eve Thermo is now available for £59.95 from www.elgato.com/eve.

What’s the difference between CX and UX?

Customer loyalty has changed significantly in the last decade. Businesses exist in an increasingly customer-led environment: the rapid evolution of technology, along with a coming-of-age of millennial consumers has had a transformative effect on customer expectations. And one of the biggest components of this expectation is the idea of customer experience.

Customer experience (CX) is the sum of all interactions a customer has with your business, and should be distinguished from user experience (UX), which is the experience that the user (your customer) has with a specific product or service of yours.

When we talk about user experience (UX) – using our tech startup in Manchester as the example – we’re talking about desktop software, mobile apps and the website browser that your customer encounters and interacts with. We need to ask the following questions: How intuitive is the interface? Is it easy to use and navigate? Is it clear in its information architecture? Does it solve the correct problem? Does it provide the right service?

Any business that wishes to remain competitive in this new landscape needs to understand the difference between customer experience (CX) and user experience (UX), and be able to adapt their business practices accordingly.

So, why is customer experience more important than ever? Research from former Gartner analyst Esteban Kolsky has suggested that 55 per cent of customers are willing to pay more for a guaranteed good experience. Only 1 out of 26 unhappy customers complain. The rest churn. Absence of feedback or complaints doesn’t necessarily mean satisfaction – indifference really is the opposite of love. Sixty-seven per cent of customers cite bad experiences as reason for churn and it is six to seven times more expensive for companies to attract new customers than to keep existing customers.

Whatever your business, be it a burger joint in Manhattan or a small tech firm in Manchester, you need to provide value and differentiation. That’s how you stand out in any market – even the most crowded. And today, it seems that customer experience is the last source of differentiation. So, be outstanding.

Let’s look in more detail at how CX differs from UX and why that matters to you, and more importantly, to your customers.
As stated previously, CX takes into account the entire experience that your customer has when they deal with you and your brand, not solely the product. Yes, in the old days that meant walking into your burger place and rating the food, the service and the price. This would be the whole of the customer experience, right? It’s the same basic principle, but now what a customer can rate you on is much broader, and crucially they can decide not to walk into your business way before they even see the restaurant or the menu. Points to consider are: What is the first point of contact for your potential customers? How easy is it for customers to find answers to their questions? How pleasant and professional is the interaction process? Do they feel positive about their overall experience and everything associated with your organisation? What role is new media, like Facebook and Twitter, having on your customer points of contact?

What makes your users ‘users’ (or the person eating at the burger restaurant) is that they are involved in using your product. What makes them customers has to do with everything else. What’s important to keep in mind is your customers’ entire journey with your organisation. In fact, your customer may not even use your service before they are turned off: CX takes in potential customers and their experiences before they put hands near wallets. The customer journey now begins much sooner than it might have even five years ago. Thanks to things like social media and the digital transformation at large, customers can now encounter your business in a wider variety of ways and can be delighted or put off before they even get near your product.

If UX is one important pillar under the roof of CX, then both are very important. If your UX is poor, then people will think twice about your services. However, even if your website is fast and well signposted, your app convenient to use, your burger the best in town, if you have an ill-tempered or unprofessional customer service team at the helm when someone calls to enquire or complain, you are going to struggle to attract the numbers your product deserves, or to cement such loyalty as we mentioned above.

So, like any complicated relationship, UX and CX need each other in more ways than we might at first realise. Both are vital parts of your business’s growth, so don’t mix them up: treat them with the attention that they deserve, and you’ll reap the benefits.

5 Stylish WordPress themes for March 2017

Rider

A single-page theme with a fullscreen video background broken down into topical sections with big bold images.


Inherent

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Ice Cream

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Wonderwall

A lifestyle theme with nine variations on the homepage design. Choose from simple blog to fullscreen images.


Luxury Apartment

Clean and smart with big apartment shots plus location info, maps, FAQ and more.