Richard Lishner Photography: Blog en-us (C) Richard Lishner Photography (Richard Lishner Photography) Wed, 21 Jul 2021 23:44:00 GMT Wed, 21 Jul 2021 23:44:00 GMT Richard Lishner Photography: Blog 80 120 READING A PHOTOGRAPH GO BY TRAIN                                                       GO BY TRAIN : FINAL VERSION

This week's essay will be a peak under the hood of an artistic trick which I have picked up in my work after observations of artists far better and more celebrated than yours truly. I have found that it invariably works, and the more casually and unobtrusively it is applied, the better. I am referring to the inclusion of the printed word in a visual image. What is interesting is that these words, letters, or numbers do not have to have any relevance to the "subject" at hand. While the inclusion of signs in urban landscapes has a long tradition, it soon became apparent to me that these letters did not have to be complete, make any real sense, or even be in a language I understood. I was just drawn to them, seemingly against my will - attention must be paid!

                                    PORTLAND, OREGON : FINAL VERSION

Here is an early and obvious example, a famous sign in town which is the subject of almost any visitor with a camera. While I can take pride in my framing, the angle, and my capture at "blue hour", when the neon comes on but the sky is still blue, it is really not that much different or better an image than any competent  tourist can take with their iPhone. Yet the image works as well as the actual sign in the landscape - you must read it.

                                   MADE IN OREGON B&W : FINAL VERSION

Now we're getting a little more complicated. The abstraction of black and white has relieved a little of the postcard problem, as has the fact that we are now dealing with an historic sign, the predecessor of the existing Portland sign. Tourists will only be confused, while Portlanders will nod their heads in sentimental recognition and show me their tattoos in places which I really shouldn't see. So now the act of reading has become a pleasurable act of nostalgia.

                                    KEEP PORTLAND WEIRD! : FINAL VERSION

Another example of the power of a sign, our informal motto. The only selling point of my version is that I found the smaller East side version at Music Millennium and then as is my practice, cropped it within an inch of its life. The sign is now so out of context that I have created a photographic bumper sticker, with only limited hints that it actually exists, or that it really appears in this manner only in my photograph.

                                   RIP CITY : FINAL VERSION

Early urban photographers realized the visual power of the neon sign, especially once they got over the problem of proper exposure and just let everything else go black, with limited information concerning the signs' actual location. This example celebrates the neon technology, ignoring the context, which happens to be a local bar window, and excluding the beer brand which is trying to show its loyalty to the Blazers. I am as usual finding myself appealing to locals, for the tourists are in fact totally confused, worried that we all are really the nihilists they have been warned about.

                                   THE SCHNITZ : FINAL VERSION

This is about as simple as it gets, and the only pride I can take is my exposure which carefully darkens everything else so that the sign hovers in complete blackness, devoid of any acknowledgement of its surroundings or in fact its existence as a physical object. My jaunty angle is the result of the need to get my subject in a square coaster, but it is interesting to me that I have never seen another image of this ubiquitous sign at this angle.

                                    PDX XMAS : FINAL VERSION

Another take on the Portland sign, again reducing the exposure so that the neon is disembodied from the warehouse it is attached to. Probably only locals will realize that is the holiday season, when our white stag becomes Rudolph every year.

                                   MADE IN OREGON OBVERSE : FINAL VERSION

A little more sophisticated, or just too clever by half? The power of the letters, and the stag, can survive even though they are now backwards. Of course it helps that everyone knows what the sign actually says.

So far we have seen how I use the power of print to grab the viewers attention, and subtly include them in the sanctum of shared reference points so they can feel part of the "background" meaning of the image. This is why the Union Station shot focused so closely on the side of the clock tower that does not say Union Station. Locals are included in the "club" because they have seen the plaintive plea to try the train for as long as they have been in Portland. And  my very tight framing shows the viewer that the only important thing about the clock tower is that neon plea, and that they might have just missed their train. If this image is enlarged to a size to rival reality, it will always be ten after three wherever it is displayed. Like print, clocks always get our attention; have you ever noticed that every clock or watch advertisement always shows the time as 10 after 10 because someone decided that that position of the clock hands was the most aesthetically pleasing? Or that the concerned atomic scientists knew we would respond to a few minutes before midnight?

                                    IN THE PINK : FINAL VERSION

Such is the power of lettering in the visual field that I can color the cherry blossoms and reduce the sign to a tiny fraction of the image, and still your eyes must read the sign despite the visual cacophony. Black and white actually makes the sign much more readable in this image.

Now it's one thing to take pictures of signs - can we show even more how these letters grab our attention? Scientists have long known that our brains are wired in certain ways to pay more attention to certain things in our visual fields. Viewers will always focus first on the lightest portion of an image, so it better be important or it will just distract the viewer. That is why some of the most successful images of the forest always try to avoid showing the sky, since it is so much lighter than the woods, and will take the viewer "out" of the picture. Human beings also will latch on to any representation of a human face, whether it's their mother or not, which human babies recognize even before their own bodies. And once we learn to read, or even recognize letters as symbols that are theoretically important, we are drawn to them like moths to a flame. Artists take advantage of this fact.

                                    PEARL MEMORIES : FINAL VERSION

I'm an architect, so an old brick warehouse in the Pearl District will probably appeal to me as an aesthetic object more than the next person. But I can try to seal the deal by including some faded letters into the equation. It doesn't matter that some younger folks might not even know what crockery is, and that glassware or whatever is just the product of your crazy brain trying to complete the word. I fooled you once again.

                                                               GUGGENHEIM #3 : FINAL VERSION

Frank Lloyd Wright labeled his building, perhaps with the hope that New Yorker's would not think that a spaceship had landed on Fifth Avenue. Notice how he has spaced the letters so far apart that he is almost fighting legibility, yet you can't look away from that small part of the image.

                                     BEAT UP FORD : FINAL VERSION

The subject of my image is the incredible pattern and colors of the rust on this old truck, but you know what caught your attention despite yourself, even if you are a Chevy man. Why do you think they put labels on cars anyway?

                                    HAMBURGERS : FINAL VERSION

Such is the power of print that even sign makers can get confused. What are they actually selling at this roadside stand? Ice cream or hamburgers? And what's with the penguin? This sign reminds me of the joke about the husband who gets in a pickle when his wife asks for the pink shirt in the dryer that is blue, but is labeled "Pink" by the brand. What's a poor male supposed to do?

                                    UNDER THE "L" : FINAL VERSION

Letters are in fact so powerful that you sometimes need only one to completely draw the viewers attention. Portlanders might recognize this vintage skyscraper as the Wells Fargo Building in Downtown, even though Vanna has only revealed a single "L".

                                                               ROOMS : FINAL VERSION

Walking the mean streets of my native New York, I have brought the socioeconomics of the city right smack in your face. You think this ancient SRO sign is only a memory, but you're not so sure, and that "double" is even weirder, as are the multiple fire escapes - does this building even have hallways?

                                    STREETS OF HOPE : FINAL VERSION

Of course i was a complete sucker for this "tromp l'oeil" (fool the eye) painting on the side of a warehouse near the Portland State library, but it is interesting to me that this viewer (me) was drawn to the most optimistic title of this pile of books.

IF ONLY                                                                              IF ONLY : FINAL VERSION

This street scene, which I viewed from forty floors up in my sister's New York office, seemed to exemplify an urban angst so confining that even contradictions were proscribed, the relentless march of the street lamps seemingly out of touch with the roadway's instructions to toe the line.

                                   WINTER IS COMING : FINAL VERSION

Sometimes we can read the words, know the inspiration, without even understanding what the hell these words to the wise are all about. Is this just the mood of Washington, D.C., or a grim reminder that the daily specials really don't matter in the big scheme of things?


Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to place a neon sign on a clear plexiglass background? Or is the joke really on me, and the prospective customers of this bookshop, who can't resist the lure of the printed word, even when it is backwards?

                                   MOLLY BLOOM ON DIVISION STREET : FINAL VERSION

I'll end this review of the power of words in imagery with this enigmatic image near my house. And to think that some people think that Portland is not really that weird after all. What are we to make of this one-word declaration on the side of an innocent telephone pole? Who's asking? What are we signing up for? And why am I supposed to understand this at all? But consider how depressing the alternative would be as we walked by on our street?







(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 23 Jul 2021 19:00:00 GMT

This week I'd like to explore the possibilities afforded by computer post-processing to create a different kind of wide angle image than photographers could make even in the recent past. All of the images in this essay are the result of this computer daring-do, and would be impossible for me to create in camera. While they might have different final aspect ratios, they are all the result of creating a panorama image.

Everyone has a different "way of seeing", and most artists as they begin to differentiate their work and gravitate towards their style realize that their best images seem to embody their natural viewpoint. I realized that I have long been disposed towards the telephoto end of the scale, focusing on what I call "snippets", parts of the whole, rather than the grand viewpoint that  seeks to capture the entire vista. It's just what I seem to like and find visually satisfying. I also tend to gravitate towards vertical images, which began with my interest in architectural subjects which tend to be vertical, and expanded from there. It is often said that a photographer who tends toward the vertical dreams of the magazine cover instead of the two-page spread, and that might be true as well. It finally occurred to me how vertically-oriented I had become when I realized that even most of my square-cropped images, destined to become photo-coasters, were actually taken as verticals.  It was then that the cheapskate in me finally let myself purchase a vertical grip for my camera. This accessory allows you to capture vertical shots without doing a yoga move to push a shutter button which is now in the "wrong place." They usually allow for an extra battery, and provide duplicate controls which allow for shutter release, focusing, and exposure modification with your right hand on the top right corner of the camera when it is vertically oriented. Of course this adds more bulk and weight to an already large rig, which as usual makes me wonder why the average horizontally-oriented photographer would ever opt for this accessory.


Another reason for my telephoto bias is simply because I never really allowed myself to purchase a real wide angle lens, even though I actually needed one. I started out honing my photographic skills because I needed to take photos of my architectural work for my portfolio. I couldn't begin to afford the fees of a professional architectural photographer, so I had to do it myself. Thus I inflicted myself on my clients, who generally played along and even staged my shots to some degree, even while they couldn't understand why I needed to spend hours taking four or five rolls of film of their new addition. Of course most of them didn't realize that a "real photographer" would have arrived with a staff and taken most of a day to take two photographs. The real problem I found in substituting for a pro was that I didn't own a wide angle lens, the kind of lens that allows a Manhattan kitchen to look like someone could actually cook dinner there instead of just opening the fridge for left-over takeout. Even when I bought a reasonably priced wide angle lens, a 28 mm, I soon realized that I really needed 24mm or even 20 mm for interior architectural shots. I finally bit the bullet and rented a real wide angle zoom for my camera to capture a project, and probably doomed my chances forever of purchasing additional lenses. My wife Fran noticed the new lens, and not so peacefully inquired if I had made such a flagrantly willy-nilly luxury purchase. When I assured her that I had rented the lens for the weekend for $30 instead of buying it for $1800, she made a "lady Justice balancing the scales" motion that became a standard in our house.



So when I encountered the grand vista in the landscape, I usually couldn't take the standard wide-angle shot. And when I did take out the 28mm, I was invariably disappointed with the results. You see a wide angle lens takes in more of the view because it reduces the size of the actual main subject - the stereotypical mountain appears smaller in the landscape than in your memories. I won't bore your with the inevitable debate that the focal length of the lens doesn't really change the perspective - rest assured that the actual appearance of your image changes. The relationship between distant objects and the foreground changes drastically. Thus landscape photographers realize the importance of foreground interest since the boulder two feet away appears as the same size as the mountain in the distance. And urban photographers soon revel in their shots of NYC streets that appear to contain ten times as many pedestrians as they already do in reality. Telephoto views flatten perspective, so that I realized that my vertical, telephoto images frequently resembled Japanese screens more than anything else. My standard "walk-around lens" became a 100-300 mm zoom, and my perspective was set.


It was only when I shifted to digital that I realized something had to change. My new camera's smaller sensor had converted my lens into a 160-460 mm zoom, and even I realized that 160 mm was a little too narrow view of the world at the wide end. I purchase a new zoom which was 28-135 mm, which converted to about 45-200 mm on my new camera. 45 mm is about the natural eye viewpoint, which of course seemed incredibly wide-angle to me. But while I appreciated the new wide angle views of the city, those grand vistas still seemed as disappointing as ever. You see I had gotten used to the level of detail I achieved in my telephoto images, which was not available in a wide-angle shot until you somehow enlarge it beyond the size of my walls, the pixels of my camera, or my budget for purchasing prints of enormous size.


Enter the possibilities of digital post-processing. I have been a devoted Lightroom user ever since Lightroom 2, and even though I make do with Lightroom 5, from about a dozen years ago, I still rely on the program for most of my editing needs. I've read most of the hundreds of Lightroom books on the market (reading books is the way I learn best) and even follow a lot of guys on You Tube who assure me that their way is "the way" to achieve post-processing greatness. My age and cheapness has not allowed me to subscribe to the newer versions of Lightroom, in the probably mistaken belief that above all, always avoid recurring payments. At $10 a month, I've probably saved the thousands of dollars over the years to actually afford the ink I have bought to print my images. And since Lightroom 5 seems to still work for me, and Adobe still hasn't pulled the plug, I have not seen the need to "improve" my software.


My contrarian tendencies were helped when I did purchase another software suite on a very big sale a few years ago from what turned out to be a local Portland software company, On One. This was designed as an "add-on" to Lightroom, and some of the features appealed to me, since they were exactly what was missing from my ancient versions of Lightroom. The most important included a feature that allowed for completely unreasonable enlargement of images with very, very little loss of detail, perfect for  the enlargements of my images that high rollers wanted for their vast Pearl District walls. Another feature allowed for the quick erasure of offending sensor dust, visual distractions, or even people from images which sometimes seemed almost miraculous. So even though I have stopped getting new versions of the On One Suite since my old laptop can't handle them (if it isn't one thing, it's another), I still recommend it for photographers who want some newer miracles without a subscription.


One of these miracles which I began to investigate was the opportunity to create wide-angle images from a combination of normal or telephoto shots taken by seemingly applying the principles of creative multiple views that fascinated Modern painters. While Picasso might confuse the issue by showing a face in profile and frontally at the same time, the Cubists showed that multiple views could elucidate as well as complicate our views of a subject. Photographers had long taken advantage of the possibilities of the formerly mistaken multiple exposure. There was also the virtues of the photo essay, where multiple story-telling images combined to show more of the "truth" than one single image could.

                                                                                     GORGE WATERFALL PANORAMA : FINAL VERSION 3.5:1

Around the turn of this century the painter David Hockney began to experiment with what he called "multiples" which showed much more of a scene than was seemingly possible by combining multiple images into a grid of Polaroids, with no attempt to hide the grid. Thus a Scrabble game could be shown as one image that showed all of the players, the room, and multiple views of the board all at the same time. Hockney soon tried the same thing with grids of 4x6 drugstore prints - now he could get more cubist by overlapping images. These assemblages relied on glue, and were one-offs, although I only saw them because they were then photographed themselves.

                                                                                   EMPIRE STATE PANORAMA  FINAL VERSION 3.5:1

Enter the computer. While I had experimented with some Hockney assemblies, they were very expensive and hard to produce, and I lacked the confidence in my cubist eye. But my new computer program promised the ability to assemble multiple views into a seamless image that would defy anyone to tell that these were multiple images. I wasn't out to fool anyone except the salesman that wanted me to buy a wide angle lens. As I experimented with these stitched panoramas, I got better at what are actually pretty easy techniques that will allow your computer to assemble multiple images into one larger, wider image than your lens can achieve. All of the images that have appeared in this essay are the results of these efforts.


What is very interesting is that this process is a lot simpler than it looks - in fact, it is very easy to overthink it. All your are doing is holding your camera steady and level, while you pivot around your central subject, taking multiple shots that the computer will assemble into one image. The problems to watch for are even more basic than you think. The need to keep the camera level will make it easier for the program to stitch, and you will be amazed at first at how much you will naturally pivot downward from left to right. While a leveled tripod will of course eliminate this problem, so will practice. You also must  make a decision on the overall exposure, since you don't want your stupid camera to adjust the exposure as you circle around the scene. Figure out the exposure for the brightest part of the scenes so you don't blow that out, set it, and go to manual so it doesn't change. The same thing applies to focus point, since you don't want the camera auto focusing as you pivot either. Pick a focus, switch to manual focus, and start shooting. But first, and I kid you not , take a photo of your hand so you will know later when the sequence started and stopped. You are overlapping the photos somewhere between 1/2 and 1/3, so the computer can match things up. Not enough overlap and gaps will be apparent, while too much overlap seems to confuse the program and create artifacts that you can only eliminate later with way too much effort. You must give the computer enough information to work with, so clear skies are a no-no, and even a seascape with a clear horizon is not enough.


You hit the panorama command on the computer, and prepare to wait. I'm not talking about the proverbial cup of coffee, unless you are walking ten minutes sit at Starbucks for half an hour. The panorama files are huge, and I've taken to reading a novel while they are being assembled. And once the preview is created, and it actually looks good, then it takes far longer to actually render the file into something that you import into Lightroom. In fact, sometimes the best thing to do is to hit the command and go to bed.

                                                               RADIO CITY PANORAMA : FINAL VERSION 2:1

The result is a file that is so large and detailed that you could print out the image at billboard size, and still pixel peep up close. At even extra large "normal" sizes, the prints will be far more detailed than any regular wide angle image. The perceived resolution is enormous, which allows you to even crop into you panorama again to achieve better resolution than a normal photograph, even though you now have a "standard" aspect ratio. It's actually very easy to go overboard. Photographers who used to use expensive panoramic film cameras soon realized that the panorama aspect ratio required a subject with many, if not a continuous point of interest, to hold the viewer's attention - the view was just too wide to accomodate too much emptiness. Thus enter the mountain range or its urban equivalent, the skyline, with enough going on throughout the wide span to keep the viewer's interest all the way though the expanse. The best aspect ratios seem to me to be either 2:1 or 3:1; anything beyond that is very hard to compose, no matter how grand the view. While there are purists, or crazies, who still use the legacy ratios of 16:9 or 6:17 that were produced by their panoramic film cameras, 2:1 or 3:1 achieve the same basic results.

                                            BURNSIDE & BIG PINK PANORAMA : FINAL VERSION 3:2

The problem with these ratios, despite all of the detail, is that when we scan the grand view, our two eyes are moving  around, while the single camera eye does not. Thus the problem becomes that the view becomes too narrow - we are not seeing enough of the scene above or below the narrow band the camera and computer is creating. The first solution is the last bit of advice I left out of your panorama instructions - you will hold your camera vertically as you pivot and overlap horizontally, to get the biggest possible amount of the "short" dimension of your panorama. Conversely, if you take a panorama of a waterfall or a skyscraper, you will take a series of horizontal  shots as you pivot in a vertical arc.


We are one short step from the madness of a panorama with multiple grids to "solve" this short-dimension problem. Include more of the sky and the foreground by taking a double pivot, but realize that you now need overlap in two dimensions, and possibly a new computer. Essentially, panoramas are a lot of fun, and even revelatory, but they should be considered as extra, bonus shots, because they just might not come off, and are very hard to correct if something goes wrong. So two tries might be in order, and always take a few regular images before you leave the mountain top, because the panorama might fail. When I first let the computer loose on the Dartmoor image with the tree, it somehow produced two trees so realistically that I could just shake my head. When I eliminated the extra tree, it took hours to reduce the artifacts that both surrounded and were within the branches of the remaining tree. Depending on the print size of these images, you are actually forced to process them differently. At 4x12 inches, what appears as unsightly sensor dust that must be removed is revealed to be an extremely in focus bird if it is viewed at a potential 12 x 36 inches. At 4x8 inches, especially in black and white, the amount of detail is so intense that it starts to hurt your eyes, so that it almost demands larger prints that you or anyone else might want to look at.


So some of this begins to defy logic even though its a lot of fun. I once produced a 4 feet x 4 feet enlargement on fabric, a tapestry if you will, that unfortunately looked fantastic from 40 feet, or four booths away, from my booth at the market. Even though the level of detail allowed it to be viewed up close, nobody but yours truly could even understand the image when viewed within my booth. I never sold it, and now it is usually draped over my drafting chair in my studio. There are practical limits to magic.




(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 16 Jul 2021 19:00:00 GMT

This week I would like to explore the topic of a long-term photographic relationship with a particular place, and how it can focus and expand your photography. The place that has captivated me for over ten years has been one of my favorite spots in Portland, the Lan-Su Chinese Garden. I remember my first visit to the garden many years ago. I was so blown away at the end of this visit that I ended up with my first annual membership in the Garden before I had left that day.

These successive annual memberships, along with my self-employed and self-unemployed lifestyle, have enabled a pretty special relationship with a major cultural institution. The annual membership, along with living within 20 minutes of the garden, allows me unlimited visitation during the year, whenever I want, for as little time as I want, all for one very reasonable price. Thus what could be a unique visit for a tourist or just an occasional trip for a Portlander showing off their city has become a wonderful ordinary part of my life in the city. That is what I mean when i call the Garden "My Chinese Garden" - frequent visits have allowed me a sense of familiarity and ownership, so that I can approach the garden as a domestic space - an extension of my wife's bungalow garden.

                                    LAN-SU AND BIG PINK : FINAL VERSION

The garden is located in Portland's Chinatown neighborhood, a part of Old Town just north of Burnside. Once a thriving residential area for Asians, along with the neighboring Japan Town, these areas suffered after the suburban exodus from Portland after the Second World War. In point of fact, the areas never recovered from the emptying of the neighborhoods by the forced evacuation of the Japanese population, both immigrants and citizens, from the West Coast to internment camps in the big empty of the American West during the War. This hysterical racist response to Pearl Harbor, with no evidence of disloyalty ever put forward, economically crippled the neighborhood. The prevailing ignorance of the time meant that the "othering" of Asians extended to the Chinese, our allies in the war, since most Americans had to receive instructions in how to tell the difference between different Asian groups.

The image above shows the relationship between the Garden and its place in Portland, but in some ways is very misleading. The Garden, like many of Downtown's parks, takes up only one block of the standard 200' x 200' miniature urban grid. These small blocks in many ways allow for the occasional denial of commerce in the city based on the realization that Capitalism is only being asked for one small block. Yet the real genius of the Garden's design is that it feels absolutely cut off from the city. Somehow in the space of one small block one can easily spend a couple of hours in China, with very little idea that you are in Portland. In fact, this view of Big Pink to the Southwest is about the only large intrusion of the surrounding neighborhood into your visit to China. The rest of the low-rise neighborhood is mostly screened by the garden itself.

                                    BAMBOO, LAN-SU : FINAL VERSION

This detail of a very small planting of bamboo at the garden illustrates how the typical historical design of a Chinese Garden serves to create a separate world. The Chinese Garden was always considered a piece of urban design, an integral part of the city. Though varied in size, these gardens were typically conceived as large courtyards, surrounded by buildings, or at least walls, that would shield views of the surrounding city. The white background to the bamboo is a ten-foot high stucco wall that surrounds the garden, either by itself or as part of a pretty complete shell of one to three story pavilions that make up the perimeter. In fact, Portland's urban design regulations confounded the Chinese designers because our anti-blank wall rules required a certain amount of windows  on the street elevations. These "windows" were accomplished with small screened openings in the wall which allow the occasional glimpse of the city. These views are carefully mitigated because the wall is in fact not on the sidewalk, but a few feet inside it, which allows for further planting outside the walls to screen the "windows."

                                   LAN-SU PORTAL : FINAL VERSION

This traditional "Moon Door" arched opening occurs early in the Garden's processional sequence. While the route is not exactly proscribed, it is strongly encouraged by the design strategies that isolate the garden and encourage planned views. The entire idea is create a sequence of garden "rooms" which will focus visitor's attention on smaller planting areas, highlight varieties of planting, and hide the fact that you are twisting and turning on the perimeter of one small block. These gardens in China were domestic in the sense that one family or institution would be in control of the courtyard - and thus both "secrecy" and an exaggeration of the actual scale were in order. The route would strive to stretch the walk around the perimeter, presenting carefully controlled views that led to a climax of an interior courtyard that seemed larger than the space the rest of the garden could possibly contain. In Portland, this largest space is placed on the diagonal of the block, and filled with it's own pavilion on a central island on a pond that provides vistas across this central space. These different garden rooms are small enough in actual dimension that they could be transported to a typical urban lot in Portland and not really have to be shrunk in size. A typical Portland lot is 50' x 100' - do the math and you will realize that the Lan-Su Garden in fact constitutes the same area as eight of the houses on my street in Southeast Portland.

                                    LAN-SU POND : FINAL VERSION

This image is of the island pavilion, carefully placed near one end of the pond, not in the middle, to increase the pond's apparent size. Here you can see that almost all of the garden's components were designed and created in China, and then carefully brought to Portland to be assembled by the same Chinese craftspeople. The architecture and ornament of the garden is based on traditional models of gardens found in Portland's sister city in China, Souchow, known for it's gardens, some almost a thousand years old. I was once looking through a giant coffee table book of world garden design, when one of the photos of a Chinese Garden seemed weirdly familiar. I have never been to China, and I was in fact looking at a familiar view because I had already made my version of the image from Portland's garden. It is known as the most authentic Chinese garden outside of China. All of the plants and the Koi in the Pond are authentic Chinese varieties, even if they didn't come from China. And all of the weird and revered natural carved stones found in lakes  in China were directly bought from Souchow to be placed in our garden.

                                    LAN-SU POND B&W : FINAL VERSION

The virtue of this black and white version is the replacement of vegetation color with texture. It is also interesting to see how the increased contrast in the monochrome version has highlighted both the reflection in the pond and the openings in the stucco walls of the pavilion. The lack of color has also completely obscured the brick high rise across the street, and further down played the one aspect of the design I really hate, the concrete base walls that surround the pond.

                                                               VEGETATION AND ORNAMENT : FINAL VERSION

Once you start exploring the garden, the photographic possibilities endlessly expand. I become fascinated by the interplay between vegetation and architectural detail, which seem to bring out the best in each other. This one corner of another pavilion features weeping willows that contrast with Chinese ornament that grabs my attention even though it is totally alien to me. Take one away, and the image suffers to the point of no return.

                                   LAN-SU WEEPING WILLOW : FINAL VERSION

Here another view across the pond highlights color and texture variations, along with those reflections that a pool can provide. Notice some of those weird rocks that line this part of the pond, and the actual hills beyond the tree that form one of the corners of the block.

PERSIMMON                                     LAN-SU PERSIMMON :FINAL VERSION

Throughout the year the garden presents different varieties of vegetation on display. Winter reveals the garden's "bones" the best, while Fall will give you the best Maple colors. Spring highlights the new burst of color, while Summer features the pavilion interiors as shady respites from the infrequent Portland sun. Most of these structures are one room deep, feature cross ventilation and "exterior" views to rear planted mini-courts surrounded by the perimeter wall. The fiction of the garden is that you are temporarily a Chinese scholar in your own garden, and it is amazing how the garden can carry it off. The fact that this particular  "Chinese scholar" can come any time, with today's New York Times in hand, only enriches the experience.

I only wish that the Garden was a park with free admission, but maintenance, etc, probably makes that impossible. Finishing the Garden was Bill Naito's deathbed request of Mayor Katz, and she deserves lots of credit for making it happen. And an annual pass can be paid off after only a few visits anyway. The Garden will be here long after all of us, even if the pond has sprung a leak or two.

FALLEN LEAVES                                     FALLEN GINGKO LEAVES : FINAL VERSION

This intimate landscape was discovered by your intrepid photographer outside the walls of the Garden near the entrance. The Ginkgo tree in the garden had provided the overflow leaves for this tableau. It shows how repeat visits can show a photographer some new points of view.

                                    LAN-SU MAPLE #2 : FINAL VERSION

This image is the opposite side of the Japanese Maple at one edge of the pond. One of the weird rocks stands alongside what I call "my tree". You see the first image in this essay was my answer to what is actually known as "The Tree", a world-famous image of a Japanese Maple at Portland's Japanese Garden. Every Portland photographer, and seemingly every one who has ever visited that garden, has taken that image. Until the world's worst businessman, yours truly, showed up at the Saturday Market. Since I couldn't bear having the same image in my booth, I finally substituted "My Tree" for the "The Tree" that was a fixture in every other photography booth at the Market. Such are the lengths an artist can go to achieve some amount of sel respect in a cruel commercial world.

THE PATH                                        CHINESE GARDEN WALK : FINAL VERSION

Finally, here is one of my favorite images from the Garden. It shows the play of light across one of the typical paved courtyards of the garden rooms that make up the Garden. Paving stones from China are placed in various different patterns in each of the rooms - this is the "Garden of Cracked Ice." The light shaft grazing the pebbles makes the scene, which can cause considerable disorientation for some visitors to my booth. They are convinced it is an aerial view of some unknown dense ancient cityscape until Ishow them the leaves and return them back to Earth. While this image has the appearance of a black and white photo with colored leaves, it is actually what happens when you turn the contrast in a color photo of a brown stone floor up to "11." The hyper contrast has turned the browns to black and highlighted black, while the brown leaves have turned radioactive. An example of the fun you can have in post-processing when you "break the rules" just to see what might happen, and then enjoy what you have created by admiring someone else's artistic talent.

And that is the real lesson for today. If you find an environment that you enjoy, whether natural, or man-made, don't be afraid of allowing yourself to repeatedly enjoy it, and create new images of that place you know more than the average visitor.  In that way you can hopefully deliver to your viewers some of the magic you feel when you visit your special place.



(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 09 Jul 2021 19:00:00 GMT

This week I would like to discuss one trip I made with Benjamin to Central Oregon about seventeen years ago. Our usual "plan" was to drive for about four days into the unknown, in no certain direction, the only proviso being that we wouldn't sleep in the car, (avoided only barely sometimes), and that we couldn't drive farther away than it would take us to get back by the end of Easter Vacation. In retrospect we always had a great time, even though my frequent forays beyond normal routes would often drive my son nuts. He never got used to the idea that my object seemed to be to take the road much less traveled, with only a vague idea that there would be something interesting at the end or on the way. Now I can't believe that I had the stamina to drive through an empty state alone, since my son had absolutely no interest in driving way after he could have legally taken the wheel. Of course most of the places we went were so empty that in an emergency he could have taken the wheel even as a ten-year old. In any case, Benjamin has finally gotten a license as a 33 year-old college professor, and he drove the whole way on our last road trip through rural North Carolina.

Even though I failed my duty as a parent in training him for transportation beyond taking the bus, I will say that Benjamin might be one of the few Millenials who knows how to read a map. As navigator, he was in charge of at least setting us off in the right direction, albeit with fatherly checking that declined as he got older. Not that much has changed on this map, but I just realized that the copy I still have features Governor Kulongoski. Benjamin mastered the state road map pretty quickly, and was especially delighted when he got to turn it over to check for the detailed "city" maps, since they meant that we had returned to some semblance of civilization and that lunch might be in his future. But he was very suspicious when it became time to turn to the 88-page oversize map book of topographic maps of the entire state that I had procured in Powell's. This fount of all geographic knowledge, useful or not, only promised that we were about to enter places that most maps would fill with warnings or blank space - "here be monsters."

                                                             CRACK IN THE GROUND #2 : FINAL VERSION

These maps were so detailed that it sometimes seemed that if it wasn't on the map, it didn't exist. On the other hand, it led to even further exploration once we had reached the middle of nowhere, since there always seemed to be a more obscure road to take us further afield. Each page of the book was only about 10 x 25 miles in size, so every feature of the landscape was highlighted for our edification. Almost every hill, stream, or lake was acknowledged by name, which lent a degree of certainty to routes that otherwise didn't inspire confidence. Benjamin quickly began to realize that a good half of the named towns were still aspirational, and it spawned a parlor game when we had already passed the town we were looking for without realizing it.

Overall routes were still planned with the state road map, since the map book was too detailed to understand where you were actually going to beyond the next half hour, no matter how slow the state of the road lowered the speed limit. But the book also provided two further planning devices in its "gazetter" section. 30 Scenic Drives outlined routes of 35-160 miles that promised adventure, landscapes, and directions so detailed that they could only be followed on the book's maps. But I really fell in love with the list of "Unique Natural Features", most of which I had never even heard of, and were found on no other maps than those contained in the book. This "bucket list" provided our intrepid explorers with some reasonable excuse to drive way-out-of-the-way.

                                       CRACK IN THE GROUND #3 : FINAL VERSION

One of these features that inspired a trip was delightfully and laconically named Crack in the Ground, the atlas' homage to the classic "Snakes on a Plane." The atlas quietly promised a "fracture" 2 miles long, 40 feet deep, and ten feet across, and so off we went. I have only met one other person since who has ever been to the place, or even heard of it. I would recommend it as a way station on a trip even farther afield, since it is not really very near anything else of interest or easily reached by the most popular routes into the Outback. I guess you could combine it with a trip to Paulina Lake, or as a stop on an adventure farther into Eastern Oregon. While it is actually close to Bend in theory, you are required to take some sketchy dirt roads off Route 20, and I might suggest a longer, but mostly paved trip on Route 31 out of La Pine. In any case you will end up in Christmas Valley, another "town" that might be now more than the mere gas station it was at the beginning of this century, or maybe not. At least the young attendant pointed out the dirt road that led out of town to our destination, which had not even been cited in the map book!

Eight more miles of featureless high desert sagebrush later, we arrived at a small wooden sign  that cited a "parking area" no different than anything else surrounding it. Benjamin was reassured by the two other cars in attendance, though we never saw any other people. Fortunately there was a smaller arrow sign that pointed the way, since the "park" provided no information on what was about to happen. The trail was at least clear, because it soon became apparent that the crack in the ground might have been discovered simply by someone unlucky enough to fall into it.

                                                            CRACK IN THE GROUND #4 : FINAL VERSION

As shown in the first two images above, the people who named this curiosity weren't kidding. You are walking along, minding your own business, across the flat, featureless, sagebrush High Desert that extends for miles in every direction, only occasionally relieved by a lava flow, a tree, or a dried-up lake. And then you come upon what can only be called a crack in the ground. We descended until we were about 40 feet below the surface, and soon were encountering snow in our sneakers, since the shadows had protected the snow long after it had melted up on the top. While the chasm varied in size, it never narrowed so much as to encourage doubling back, nor widened enough to achieve canyon status. This was a crack, and I stated to wonder if we would encounter an animal skeleton of a sheep or cow who had met an untimely end up above. The crack extended for nearly two miles before it rose and petered out on the surface after a couple of miles I remember us walking back up above, carefully keeping our distance. The images from above were taken on the trip back, for the trail in doesn't provide any such preview of the crack.

                                                            CRACK IN THE GROUND #4 : FINAL VERSION

As advertised in the gazetteer, the crack's walls featured "unusual wall outcroppings", with some nice areas of different mineral flows in varied colors enlivening the views. I know some of these images seem to be dead ends, but my memory tells me they were just bends in the crack. I remember it as just your usual cloudy day, but I don't know how much sun you get in this crack when it's sunny any way; for all I know we might have avoided excessive contrast that day. Benjamin's respect for the map book's wild understatement encouraged further adventures afterwards, for he now knew that something lay behind the promise of "unusual natural feature."

                                                             CRACK IN THE GROUND #5 : FINAL VERSION

We walked out of the crack to find the lone tree in the landscape, and then trudged back to the car, staying well away from the crack. I didn't trust the stability of the edge one little bit. For the life of me I do not remember where we ended up staying or eating afterwards, but that might have been the time we were so pathetic that the restaurant we ate in allowed us to sleep in a day room off the kitchen. All in all, the map book had served us well once again. And while I'm not sure that these images do the crack justice, since I have never seen another image of this place, what do I know? I just recommend that the next time you find something on a map, even if it's on your phone, you feel okay in striking off in a new direction. You just might find something as weird as Crack in the Ground.



(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 02 Jul 2021 19:00:00 GMT
THE TIME MACHINE                                      OREGON COAST SUNSET : FINAL VERSION

This week I'd like to discuss a recent purchase of mine and encourage you to follow my very belated lead. After many years of my usual plodding and indecision, I finally purchased a photo scanner. My official excuse was the need to scan multiple photos for my latest photo book that is a collection of my photos from around the state of Oregon. A lot of these photos date back many more years than I care to think about, when I took my son Benjamin on yearly Easter Break road trips around the state. He's a college professor now, so these predate my conversion to digital photography. These memories are now confined to an incredibly unorganized series of binders of prints, negatives and slides that have emerged from my basement. As I have started to reconnect these images to today's digital world, I now realize that I actually purchased a time machine.

                                   OREGON COAST SUNSET B&W : FINAL VERSION

It is a commonly accepted truism that any photograph 50 years or older is intrinsically interesting because it reveals the changes in society, from clothes to hairstyles to buildings - the stark changes are now right in our faces, and we really can see that "the past is another country." Well, let me tell you, it kind of works with mere decades as well, when they are your own images. Even with what most might call relatively timeless imagery like the images above. The Oregon Coast is known for horizontal rain, but there have probably been thousands of sunsets since I captured this image decades ago. The time machine aspect is that I have absolutely no memory of when or where I took this photo, except that it was somewhere on the coast. And after finding it in my archives, and scanning it with my new machine, I am very pleased with this newly discovered artifact.

This image has never looked better than it does now, even though I had forgotten it existed. Part to the joy of scanning old photos, even if they exist as prints, is the realization that the one-hour photo place, a miracle of the late Twentieth Century, was in reality an awful place where any photographic talent you might have went to die. It is positively appalling how extremely bad the typical print you are holding in your hand, your photo memory, is compared to even an early effort with the scanner. It is like night and day, and I am just experimenting with the new machine. Scanning the photo now allows me to use the hard-earned skills at post-processing the image. I know can not just crop it the way I want, but actually achieve an exposure that has nothing to do with the mediocre efforts of the one-hour machine. Often it is like you are seeing the image for the very first time; with the added bonus that you can try something new, like converting it to monochrome. I happen to like the black and white version of my sunset a little better, which almost sounds crazy even as i write this sentence, but there you go. The value of this "second chance" image is not only that it was forgotten in the archives, but that it didn't even stand out as a "keeper" until it actually received the attention it deserved.


Another forgotten image, taken on an ill-fated camping trip down the Coast on another Easter Break. I don't remember where this beautiful beach actullay was, but I do remember that it ws one of the few days that weren't totally besotted. I had eagerly and compulsively planned our trip, reserving all of our campsites to ensure no trouble with the anticipated crowds. Needless to say I didn't realize that camping at the Oregon coast in March without an RV was a fool's errand. The low point was when my preteen son announced that our reserved site in an empty campground was completely underwater, and that perhaps with could just choose anther one. Yet images like the one above have reminded me that I should take the trip again, because the Coast really gets prettier the further South you go.

                                   OREGON DUNES #1 : FINAL VERSION

Another forgotten image from the Coast, this time somewhere at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, where you might never get to the beach, but you can play Lawrence in Arabia without a script. Can I point out again that that young man is now entrusted with the education of college students? While this image might not be the best image I ever created, that in itself brings up a very important point about scanning which seems to trouble a lot of people. The scanning nightmare is usually the one where you are faced with an uncountable amount of images whose scanning will take up the rest of your life, and reduce you to a blithering idiot. This is related to the key-wording nightmare, or the printing nightmare, or the worst one, the backing-up nightmare, which  can beset photographers whether they are backing up or not. The truth is that you are in control of what you will scan today, tomorrow, or next year, and you can be as selective as you want. No one is forcing you to scan all of those images. Remember that they are all forgotten right now. And that if you are running at your usual ratio, probably only one out of a hundred were any good to begin with. What makes you think that you used to be so great that even a tiny minority of your images actually deserves the light of day? Relax.

                                                              EASTERN OREGON SIDE CANYON : FINAL VERSION

I took several road trips with Benjamin to Eastern Oregon, mostly to places where most Oregonians have never gotten to see because the prospect of driving for days beyond Bend through the outback has not taken hold. And I have never returned to most of these areas, despite the fact that we loved the desolation. I remember the night we doubled the population of Diamond, Oregon, and ate our wonderful steak dinner with the rest of Diamond in their kitchen instead of the hotel dining room. So images like the one above can bring back memories even when you don't remember where you took them.

Let's talk about "real world scanning". I took a class on scanning so long ago that I can't find the notes I carefully took, and know that I almost don't know what I am doing. It doesn't matter. For one thing, nothing prevents me from, Oh my God, re-scanning the image in the future once I realize what a dufus I am. So for what is really a modest investment in time machines, go buy a moderate scanner like the Epson V600 for $229,  delivered with no shipping from New York in two days. Pro Photo here in Portland didn't have any in stock for months, and even NY was beset by Covid delays, but within an hour of arrival I was scanning. Take comfort in the fact that Epson makes far newer and more expensive scanners, but this model, or another one that can let you scan prints, negatives, and slides is all you need. And yes, there is far better software that you can buy than the free Epson software that comes with the machine, but at least the "professional" option will give you all the control you need for a perfectly wonderful scan. There are so many lessons on You Tube about scanning with this particular machine that I just set them on a perpetual background loop without video while I made my first scans.

                                   WALLOWAS #1 B&W : FINAL VERSION

An image from my one trip to the Wallowas Mountains, which is nicknamed "Little Switzerland" by local boosters eager to spike tourist travel from Portland. The area is absolutely beautiful, and is so isolated that it is beyond Eastern Oregon, kind of a dead end at the borders of Washington State and Idaho. Days and days of driving from Portland, and almost all of the vista shown above is wilderness area accessible only with mule team camping outfits. But I am on a ski lift up from Wallowa Lake, where we stayed in a very nice cabin, glamping before there was "glamping."

All a professional scan will require is to set a DPI on the software high enough, lets say 2400, so that the result file will allow you to eventually create a print a lot larger and more detailed than the old 4x6 in your hand. Take one look at the histogram, adjust the end points of the scan to get any parts of the image that the stupid program would have neglected, and after pushing the button to enable the Digital Ice spot removal program, hit the scan button. The computer will then ask you if you really want such a large file that will take so long to create, and you will answer "hell yes!" and about 5 minutes later it's finished. Of course you will be multi-tasking while this interminable process is going on. While I have no doubt that I can probably make a better scan for the 24" x 36" Metal print that you will no doubt order, so far my efforts have yielded scans with enough information to achieve beautiful small images after post-processing in Lightroom.

              CRATER LAKE #1 : FINAL VERSION

I'v had the opportunity to take the long drive to Crater Lake only twice, and really would love to give it another try with my recently acquired skill at "stitching" wide angle views from multiple images with my telephoto lens. Crater Lake and the Grand Canyon are the only to places I've ever been where I really missed having a wide angle lens in my bag. But this scan pleased me to no end, despite the horrible sky (forest fires), and the lack-luster light. It is certainly not an epic view. But after seeing so many Crater Lake images over the years, none of them mine, I was absolutely shocked when I found that this image, which I did not remember, in fact satisfied my criteria for a proper Crater Lake shot. Countless Crater Lake images had taught me that it was absolutely crucial to have gained enough height on the rim trail to see above the peak of Wizard Island. Despite my lack of memories, there was clearly blue, a palpable blue, above the cone. So I'm not completely incompetent after all.

The only thing I have to warn you about is dust. I am not the most anal photographer around, and I have already misplace the squeezeable air blower that my wife looked crosswise at after only a week. I never did buy the the disposable white gloves. So despite Digital Ice, you will find an entire new level of dust spots on your file - just think of it as another example of the "zen of nothingness" as you get reacquainted with Lightroom's  dust removal tool. There is a new button you can push that converts your image into a kind of black and white negative that makes it too easy to see all of the dust spots and remove them. You can always go back and remove some more before printing that wall-sized print.

                                   MT. HOOD REFLECTION : FINAL VERSION

I don't remember if this was Trillium Lake or its aptly named and more obscure cousin Lost Lake, but in any case it is fairly similar to something you will find in most Oregonian photographer's portfolios.  The value of scanning a small selection  of your old images is that you can rediscover that you too have such a shot in your portfolio, and that you can now process it so that you can make it stand out from the typical post card view. I didn't remember that we stayed so late in the day before we headed back home, but my scanner revealed that Dad had led my son astray. I remember the time I valiantly led Benjamin on a short  few miles around Lost Lake on a very obscure trail that we discovered would be "completed" in another month or two. And I wonder sometimes when my middle-aged son holds tightly on to the map, despite the fact that he can finally share with the driving.



(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 25 Jun 2021 19:00:00 GMT
IT'S ALL THERE IN BLACK AND WHITE                                     CASCADE LAKE B&W : FINAL VERSION

Today I'd like to discuss my love of monochromatic imagery, usually referred to as Black and White. While I am not a black and white purist I have increasingly seen the value of this kind of abstraction in some of my imagery. I think as you experiment in converting some of your images into black and white you will also see its value beyond nostalgia.

The image above is nostalgic, in that it was taken about fifteen years ago on a vacation trip to the Cascade Lakes area in Central Oregon. I forget which lake we stayed at, but there were cabins for glamping (an unknown term back then) and boats to rent. I recently purchased a scanner to resurrect some of my old prints and negatives for use in my latest photo book project concentrating on my imagery all over the state of Oregon. I scanned the old print, corrected for some color shifts, and cropped to the square which I thought was best for the image. Here is the color version.

                                    CASCADE LAKE : FINAL VERSION

This is on example of one of the reasons I sometimes choose to go black and white - I simply hate the colors. I don't make any apologies for this, and have used this excuse even for landmarks that have beloved colors (by most people) that I happen to find unattractive, like the St. Johns Bridge, for heaven's sake. I tried to like the original, and semi-believed Lightroom's assurances that I had achieved the correct color balance, but those green boats just didn't do it for me. I find the black and white version much more calming, and don't miss the dock, which we all know is wood anyway.

Sometimes I'm confronted by what is actually a monochromatic color scene, and will almost immediately try a black and white conversion because I don't think there will be much of a difference - I didn't take the image because of the color.


This image is in color, but it was such a blue day that it almost appears monochromatic.



I  tried a monochromatic with a blue tint, which is reminiscent of the protective toning we used to do in the early days in the darkroom. You can see it only really lightens the bright blue parts of the sky, and tints the rocks blue. It somehow still looks a little more realistic than the real color photo.



Yet I prefer the straight black and white, which highlights both the clouds and the volcanic rock in the foreground without any color to get in the way. This version is much more satisfying to me, especially the snow on the mountain.

Sometimes the different versions are more of a matter of taste, or will feel better when placed in a collection of other color or black and white images.

                                   REFLECTIONS ON A GRID : FINAL VERSION

                                    REFLECTIONS ON A GRID B&W : FINAL VERSION

As the cops would say, "nothing to see here people, move along." Maybe the reflection is stronger in the color version, but the black windows seem more relentless in the black and white. They are very similar images, although if I didn't like the blue or the tan I would not hesitate to go with monochrome. Sometimes the choice is obvious, at least to me, but I don't go looking for black and white out in the field. Modern cameras will allow you to shoot in both jpeg and raw at the same time - memory is now cheap, so I would try it. On the back of the camera, you're looking at a black and white scene, so you "know what it looks like in black and white" but the raw file is always a color file, so you have a choice later to go back to color. In any case you should never shoot in your camera's "black and white mode" alone, since I can guarantee you that you and your computer can post-process a better black and white than the incompetent computer in your camera.

                                                           THE WHITE HOUSE : FINAL VERSION

                                                               THE  WHITE HOUSE B&W : FINAL VERSION

This is closer, but I still prefer the black and white. Maybe you are a real fan of red rocks, but I think the contrast of the sunny ruin and the dark cave is better expressed in the monochrome than in what is really a monochrome brown of the color version. It would be even closer in a square crop, because that would eliminate the distracting blue sky that the black and white avoids.

                                   HEADLAND : FINAL VERSION

                                   HEADLAND B&W : FINAL VERSION

This comparison brings up other issues. Which is more realistic? Yes, we lose the green trees, but we gain more definition in the cliffs in the monochrome. And really , do you actually believe that perfect blue sky - does that scream Oregon Coast? The color postcard view somehow hides the real feel of the coast, even on such a nice day. I only had to clone out one lone surfer in a wet suit to reveal the "truth" of how cold both the blue or the grey water was on that day. And now you can't tell whether it's 1872 or 2002 - the scene is exactly the same.

                                    HUG POINT : FINAL VERSION

                                    HUG POINT B&W : FINAL VERSION

Now we have achieved what I believe is equilibrium, with both versions having different charms. The color version's sand is more evocative than the monochrome beach, and the color reflection is a little stronger. The monochrome's rocks are a little better defined, especially the background rock and cliff. But the tan sand and blue skies are nice complementary colors. To each his own.

                                    FRACTAL POND : FINAL VERSION

                                   FRACTAL POND B&W : FINAL VERSION

While I can make the water more realistically dark in the monochrome, I still think I'm losing too much of the sparkle of the the color, even though I think the image is all about the pattern, not the color. The image is already abstract enough in real life to go even more abstract in monochrome.

So, to summarize, be open to trying black and white, after the fact. There is nothing magic about "seeing" in black and white. That's one of the ways we can take advantage of the miracle of digital post-processing. There are so many different kinds of papers now that I'm really beginning to think that darkroom afficianados are approaching the obscurity of the absolute sound fanatics with their analog turntables. I know that the digital darkroom gives me much more control than I ever had over my images when I manipulated chemicals in the darkroom, and now I do not have to choose black and white film.

In fact, I think that the only time you have to "think in black and white"  is when you are confronted with "dull light" or even "bad light" - these inopportune  moments in mid-day during your trip to Paris are perfect for black and white, and you can shoot away, knowing that yes, the scene might end up in monochrome anyway. You are simply looking for contrast in any case, and as we've seen, both color and black and white have their place.

                                   FLORAL EXPLOSION : FINAL VERSION

                                   FLORAL EXPLOSION B&W : FINALVERSION

Am I supposed to pretend that I didn't see those beautiful flowers, in all their colorful glory? But am I unaware of the even more powerful contrast, still realistic, that I can achieve in black and white, which defines the shape and pattern while losing those orange stamens? After all, I'm only human, not a pollen-hunting insect.

                                    PEDESTRIAN GRIDLOCK : FINAL VERSION

                                    PEDESTRIAN GRIDLOCK B&W : FINAL VERSION

It sometimes come down to "Keep it Simple Stupid." Is this a fashion shot? Do we really care how many colors of shirts and pants there are here?  Black and White is perfectly capable of showing how many different races there are at this crosswalk. And all of those white men in their dark suits all look better in black and white too. We know the cab is yellow, we weren't born yesterday. And we know without seeing it that the light is most likely red, and that there is strength in numbers, especially when you are jaywalking. Black and white allows us to focus on the important issues, like the fact that all of these people have never heard of Covid. PLEASE PEOPLE, GET YOUR SHOT. PLEASE.


(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 18 Jun 2021 19:00:00 GMT
THE OTHER BIG LIE : WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET (WYSIWYG)                                                         COASTER DISPLAY : A RANGE OF ORANGES

I would like to discuss color today in the spirit of just how impossible it is to actually discuss color, or to come to an agreement on how to duplicate a certain shade in a photograph or in real life. Colors are based on the reflectence of different wavelengths of light, and our own perceptions based on the receptors in our eyes and the perceptions of our minds. Color perception can be divided into three categories. Hue is the actual "color" - the "ROYGBIV", shall we say, that makes up the rainbow - red, yellow, orange, green, blue, Indigo, and violet. Even here, some people would start to hesitate at indigo and violet, wondering what happened to purple. Hue is like the Crayola box, and it is quickly obvious to any child that 64 colors were better than a slim 8. It's all of the colors in between the primary and secondary colors of the rudimentary color wheel that cause all of the confusion. Even "colorblind" people can probably distinguish hundreds of different colors, while experts and computers soon expand that into the thousands. Saturation refers to the purity, or strength of the color - in other words, how many other colors are really mixed in to make that color. This is easiest to think of in terms of paint - the more saturated shades will contain more pigment (hue) of that color in the mix. Children soon learn that the real frustration of mixing colors is the near certainty that an ugly brown will be the result. Luminance refers to the perceived brightness of the color, which is affected by how much white or black is thrown in. And even though this sounds complicated, just remember that I'm trying to keep it very simple.

What are the real world implications of this? Rich, why in hell should I care? Well, it's really important if you print your photos, and even more important if you are paying good money to someone else to make you a large print of one of your favorites. Now of course maybe you just put your photos on the web, and have never seen what they look like on someone else's phone or computer. Heavenly ignorance/bliss! But let's just say that your are painting your house for the first time in 26 years, and you want to pick a color - how do you describe it, even to yourself, much less your wife?

I've admitted before that I just might actually like orange more than the next guy. After all, isnt it the only color that literally names a fruit? Strawberry doesn't count, wiseguy, because it doesn't make any sense at all. Looking at the assemblage of orange coasters I put on the wall of my bathroom, I think you can begin to see the problem here. Most people would describe every image as "orange", even though the shades are very, very different. So which orange do you want, sir?                                     BAMBOO #2 : FINAL VERSION

Here is a rather pure orange, which is heightened by it's direct opposite, the green bamboo. If you think the designers of this garden in San Francisco just happened to pick this wall color behind this bamboo, then you are colorblind! This contrast makes both colors pop. Having searched through oranges lately, I also am wondering where the designers came up with a shade like this, which most paint companies will not even certify for exterior applications. While some of you might think that this is due to aesthetic considerations ( I can't believe he's painting his house orange!) it probably has something to do with fading more quickly than other shades.

                                    BAMBOO #1 : FINAL VERSION

Well, look at that. Even the same shades of some of the bamboo look very different in front of a white wall, and we haven't even discussed which "white" that  is painted on this wall.

                                    AUTUMN #3 : FINAL VERSION

What attracted my attention here was another beautiful orange heightened by the painted white brick in the background. Start to look closer and an entire range of oranges will soon confuse the issue.

                                    DROVE MY CHEVY TO THE LEVEE : FINAL VERSION

Another orange conumdrum. While this is clearly an orange '55 Chevy, there are probably at least four different shades of orange present in this one door panel, even though we know in our hearts that the car is painted with only one shade of orange. Which one is "correct" , and more important, which one do we "like" the best and how do we describe it and duplicate it on my house?

As you might imagine artists, designers, paint companies, and printers all might worry about this, because they are in the business of picking colors or making them, and have to achieve a certain degree of consistency in order to be trusted by their customers and clients. All kinds of scientific color ranges and charts and systems are the result of this never-ending search for "true color" matching, and while it is scientific, it's also based on a big lie.                                     FINDING NEMO : FINAL VERSION

Another famous orange, at least in some circles. Did the candy maker get it "right"? How would they know, if they cared? One way  would be to pay the Pantone company hundreds of dollars for their system, which contains thousands of colors, no names thank you, for printers to duplicate a picked color, although I doubt that they work for pastry cream. The ultimate in science, the Pantone system contains more oranges, or any other shade, than you can possibly need, and they are so close to each other that most people will just pick one and call it a day to avoid a color headache.

While certainly more scientific than allowing your judgement to be affected by the poetic, confounding, silly, or just plain stupid names that paint companies will use to denote a shade, all these systems also rely on the big lie. Try not to let your head explode. At least two problems render these systems rather moot. One is what we call light temperature, which is based not on the color of the object, but on the color temperature of the light that is being reflected. Whoa! That particular shade of orange, the one we just picked out of thousand of oranges, might not be the one we actually perceive? Sorry, Horatio, but you knew this even if you didn't know you knew it. You know that two walls of the same room will be two different shades of the same color depending on the amount of light falling on them. Compound this with the less obvious but real "quality " of light which is a subjective reaction to different shades of the "white" light of the biggest light source we know, the sun. We know that the same colors will look different in sun and shade, and at dawn, mid-day or sunset. We have already seen how color perception can also be affected by adjacent shades. Nemo's brown and white racing stripes make the orange pop to different degrees.

8:20                                                                CUP AND SAUCER, 8:20 : ORIGINAL

Here color temperature really rears its ugly head, because now we've introduced our arrogant attempt at the godlike "let there be light!" The incandescent lights in this cafe glow white in their lamps, but clearly produce an orange haze, heightened by the fact that it is 8:20 at night, so sunlight is not part of the equation. The trouble is that the patrons would not think their environment was orange at all. Our minds are much smarter than our camera's computers. We can adjust, and usually do to a large degree, to color temperature ranges, even though are cameras know better, or worse. Thus we will probably only perceive this interior orange when we shut of the lights and light some candles, since candle light is even more orange. We even think we look terrible  under "daylight" bulbs, which are cooler and more accurately approximate sunlight. Which doesn't change the fact that the scene above looks very strange. Using the magic of post-processing, I will subsequently change the sensor's color sensitivity so that the tones will be rendered more neutral, and the orange will quiet down. Don't fall into the trap of what your camera calls "Auto White Balance" because then your camera's idiotic computer will be neutralizing the very sunset you are trying to capture. WAVY RAIL                                    TANNER SPRINGS : FINAL VERSION

This railroad rail sculpture exhibits various orange tones of rust, but positively glows because I took the shot in late afternoon, when the Western sun was positively baking the rusted steel. It might never look so good in any other light, and it certainly wouldn't be as "orange." But here is the final straw that breaks the camel's back. I have no real faith that the scene really looked like this beyond my memories, and I certainly have no idea that either my laptop or my printer or your phone will produce the same orange as I see, or my camera sensor saw. This is the problem that can be described with some of the following terms: color space, color gamut, and/or color profiles. Our camera's sensors can differentiate between thousands of colors, and express them in zero's and one's. The sensor is more accurate than our eyes, or at least more "scientific", but it probably still sees less colors than we do, even if it might be better at defining them. The trouble begins when the sensor tries to tell the computer, or your computer, which orange that it saw. The screens, no matter how accurate or expensive, cannot reproduce all of the colors in the color space. In other words, the computer's means of communication, its screen, cannot produce all of the colors that the computer has captured. Then photographers try to print them. Every different photo paper, and there are hundreds, interprets color information differently. If you haven't downloaded your paper's color profile, for your particular, printer model, you do not have a chance at all. Your print will be a god-awful mess, as it will be if you just rely on the printer profile and let your printer pick the colors. So you load the profile, and now your computer is talking the same color language as the printer, and you still don't have a chance. The trouble is that even if your software allows you to simulate what your image will look like on that paper, and you might be shocked enough to tweak your file to adjust it, you will still only be looking at a simulation.

                                    SWIMMING UPSTREAM : FINAL VERSION

In fact we are swimming upstream, and there is probably a brown grizzly bear, with orange highlights, waiting for our copper salmon selves, and we have about as much chance of "accurately " producing  these colors as a salmon has in breaking through an orange brick wall. We have struggled long enough with the myth of "What you see is what you get", our desire to believe that our screens can accurately show us what our images will look like on another person's screen or on that expensive piece of photo paper we are printing on.

The trouble is that we are fundamentally looking at an image on our screen that is the result of transmitted light - it is back lit by a screen  - while the print will be seen in reflected light. It's not even the fact that these two different color profiles - the screen and the environment in which we are viewing the print - might not have much in common, but just the shear physics of transmitted versus reflected light. The first thing we need to do would be to reduce the brightness of our screens by half, which would cause our spouses to scream and ourselves to go blind. Thus the first step is to automatically increase the brightness of the "print file" by 20% or so, so that it now looks way too bright on the screen. That will get us in the ballpark at least, but we still don't have much of a clue over which colors our printer, or are paper , will have no chance of reproducing, even though our careful artistic editing efforts are based on that lying screen. Any colors which are "out of gamut" for that particular printer/paper combination will be replaced in some way behind the scenes by the software so that they will print. There are even two ways to do this, by either just changing the offending color, or changing every color to keep the color relationships closer to the original. In my opinion,that second way will only lead to deeper madness, but in any case what you see id positively not what you are going to get.

STAIRS AND STRIPES                                                                STAIRS AND STRIPES : FINAL VERSION

And then their are certain colors that are just difficult, or like certain spouses, "a handful." One of those is the red/orange combinations that I happen to like. You can see at least five different shades in this image, all helped by those beautiful bright white stripes which approximate the trim color choice that is as close as I get to religious dogma. But notice how different these orange bricks are from the orange bricks the salmon swam through.

GO BY TRAIN                                                       GO BY TRAIN : FINAL VERSION

Or are one of the many red/oranges in this image the answer? Benjamin Moore, whose paint I am using, was not much help. Even though I brought home dozens of different chips of different sizes, and used their computer program to pick oranges out of my images, nothing helped until I bought four different oranges to actually put on my house's siding. What you see is definitely not what you get - the colors on the wall did not have much to do with either the colors on the web, the paint chips, or even the colors of the paint in the can! The truth is that you don't know what the color is until you actually see it in reality, and by then you are probably a lot crazier than you were when you started on this color adventure. At least my house won't look like every other house in Portland, and the orange will look great behind the greens of my wife's garden which cover up most of my one-story bungalow anyway. Did I mention that I'm having my house painted?




(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 11 Jun 2021 19:00:00 GMT
JUXTAPOSITION                                     JUXTAPOSITION #1 : FINAL VERSION

Today I would like to discuss the concept of juxtaposition as it relates to photographic composition. Juxtaposition is defined in the dictionary as "the act of placing two or more things side by side in order to create an interesting effect." For an English major, the blue book invitation to "compare and contrast" sums up the entire enterprise of literary criticism. For photographers it can be an effective visual strategy, highlighting visual differences of scale, texture, color, or shape through these contrasts, which can be more interesting than just a singular focus. I myself have started to use it in my forays around the city, searching for new compositions in very familiar places. It allows me to see the city differently, once again ignoring the documentary "subject" to produce images that are uniquely my own.

                                   JUXTAPOSITION #2 : FINAL VERSION

I'm experimenting with finding disorder out of order, which is the opposite of most photographic pursuits. I am creating collages, but I have to deal with the real world collisions I find in the viewfinder. My standard lens choice in the telephoto range allows me to do two things to heighten the effect I'm going for. It encourages the framing of distant snippets of visual information with its reach, allowing me to see further than the naked eye. It not only foreshortens my distance from the various parts of the collage, but the telephoto effect also crunches the apparent distance between the various parts. The result is a personal city whose graphic collisions, relieved in some respects from ordinary perspective, can occur despite real distances of blocks or even miles. The camera's eye, an immovable two dimensional plane, has replaced the three dimensional human perspective. My framing has also prevented the viewer from "looking around" to increase their frame of reference. It's like trying to catch a football with one eye closed.

                                    JUXTAPOSITION #3 : FINAL VERSION

In this compare and contrast sweepstakes, I can use several visual cues to generate the collage. These include textures, colors, architectural styles and materials, and the opposition of lines that will reduce the perspective, in some instances so much that it will lead to viewer disorientation. Fragmentation and the resulting shapes that these fragments take can become more important than the real facades. In the example above, what appears to be three colliding buildings is in fact parts of one structure, the apparent differences of color owing to light and shadow. Big Pink's historical distance is distorted by the fact that it is at least a quarter of a mile in the distance, not across the street.

I think that my first attempt in this series is the most successful. The color palette helps, with enough differences to go along with the harmonization; thus the yellow curve moves forward and those weird red balconies behave themselves in the distance. What's funny here is that my contrast is actually heightened by reality, since what appears to be four different buildings are actually only three - the light grey building is actually a contrasting penthouse addition to the brick building  with its ancient painted advertising. But I think that the most important decision was to eliminate any sky, which increases the graphic quality of the image - this first image doesn't "leak."

I do not believe any of these images work better in black and white. The usual increase in the textural detail of the shot does not make up for the loss of color contrasts. Perhaps #2 works best in monochrome because the white building fragment is as white in color as it is in black and white.


I never thought I'd say this, but I really miss the green marble elevator shaft in the monochrome version, especially its glow through the foreground windows. I would also emphasize the importance of framing in these collages, since they are invariably graphically stronger than the original frames.

                                                                JUXTAPOSITION #3 : ORIGINAL

The original framing was not tight enough; the photo seems to be about Big Pink, complete with its top, and reality has reared its ugly head.

There are other ways I have used juxtaposition beyond this named series. Sometimes I use color contrasts, especially when that seemed to be the original strategy of the designer - I'm just going along.

                                   OMSI MATRIX : FINAL VERSION

Here I pose the famous "red or blue pill" question by juxtaposing these two elements of the OMSI Science Museum, its newly created blue glass entry hall and its painted legacy turbine smokestack. My framing places them much closer than they are in reality to heighten the choice of colors, and the fragments make it all about those colors.                                     PANCAKES ON BROADWAY : FINAL VERSION

Here I let reality supply the collage. These flour package murals ornament the side of a grain elevator located beyond the Broadway Bridge. They are not this close, but my telephoto makes it look the bridge narrowly missed the grain elevator. My framing centered on the bridge truss, rendering it vertical and symmetrical, avoids the reality that nothing is really straight here, since the bridge is actually sloped while the grain elevator is not leaning.

                                    DULLES SCULPTURE : FINAL VERSION

How do you comment on a building that is actually a sculpture? Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C. is just such a building. Absolutely beautiful and simple to the point that any functional reality of an "airport" is a jarring jolt to a visitor's sensibilities even while the frustrations of actually getting on an airplane drive you crazy. My interpretation contrasts the structure's two elements - it sloping concrete ceiling and pristine curtain wall of glass and concrete pillars. Notice how the columns seem to have nothing to do with the ceiling - they just collide. This juxtaposition is my subject. I've avoided people, ticket counters, and doors, all of which just annoy in contrast with this incredible space. Is there much more to this place? Not really, because only one element of the entire composition, the vertical control tower, is missing in this interior view. Eero Saarinen, the architect/sculptor here (he also created the Arch in St Louis) so wanted to isolate his pure form that he had to create special double-decker articulated buses to get passengers to planes to avoid the usual gangways. Even when they expanded the airport, the new terminal was only reached by a subway tunnel so as not to distract from this cathedral.

ANGLES & SHADOWS (BAGDAD)                                     ANGLES AND SHADOWS : FINAL VERSION

This isolated collage of elements of one building - the Bagdad Movie Theater - reduces a portion of the structure to a contradictory assemblage of angled roofs, walls, volumes, and strong sunlit surfaces with contrasting shadows. Most of the architectural order has been lost, and if you didn't know it was the rear corner of the theater it would be completely anonymous. The graphic quality is helped by the sepia toning, which renders the sky as maybe just another part of the stuccoed structure.

                                    AUTO ISOLATION : FINAL VERSION

And finally here is my attempt at getting something from a very beautiful nothing at a classical auto show. I have tried to so isolate the elements of this incredible sheet metal sculpture that once graced the street to the point that it's barely a car anymore. Only an expert could possibly tell you what this collection of shapes was part of a celebrated model of automobile. These fragments of color and shape are my attempt to convey luxury beyond reason without actually revealing the object - or the floor, the stanchions, the ropes and also the people ogling the automobile in question.

I once again encourage you to try finding subjects for your photography without being a slave to the real object in your viewfinder. Remember, sometimes the parts are the most important subjects of all.


(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 04 Jun 2021 19:00:00 GMT

This week I'd like to discuss a strategy you might adopt on your next foray out with you camera. It is based on the age-old question of "what the hell am I going to shoot today?" This is not especially applicable on your first trip to Paris, a portrait session, or a still life - although I could argue that even then it might loosen your photographic angst. I'm talking about going for a stroll in a very familiar location, one in which you've already taken all of the "bucket list" shots, such as they are, and are looking for an excuse to carry your camera and practice your hobby. How can I open my eyes today?

WAVY RAIL                                                                TANNER SPRINGS : FINAL VERSION

Please note that I am not telling you to actively plan to shoot shadows, or yellow colors, or silhouettes, or people's hands - I'm just suggesting that you might try something like that in a relaxed manner, as an additional excuse to find something to shoot. The object here is to expand your vision, as is my usual goal, beyond the documentary approach - can you find the "wow" factor without giving a hoot about the subject? This is not dependent on how abstract your eventual product is; just because a "subject" might be still apparent, that is not why you made the image. A photograph is simply an artifact of your eyes being at a particular place at a particular time. You decide what to express in your image.

CENTRAL LIBRARY 1 (SKYLIGHT)                                                                CENTRAL LIBRARY #1 : SKYLIGHT DOME

I have found it very helpful to allow myself to see other things besides the obvious subjects of my image - even if those are important to me too. I would put it this way - I'm taking a walk in the woods, or Downtown, and today I'll take anything I want- but I might allow myself to see colors, or shapes, or juxtapositions, or anything else, in addition to taking anything I want. In freeing yourself of subject constipation, don't put additional pressure on your mind - these are liberating SUGGESTIONS, not more rules to follow. If they result in a few experimental attempts, that's good enough.

These first three images line my entry foyer as a large tryptich, so I am obviously proud of them. They used to form the back wall of my tent at Saturday Market as well, until I became tired of carrying three large framed and mounted prints to the Market, and answering  the inevitable questions questions concerning the image's subjects. Now , the subject is right there in the title, because I am interested in these subjects, even if nobody else is, and I am not interested in playing games. "Untitled #18" is a title, whether the photographer likes it or not, and in my mind just denotes a lack of wit. So, yes, these photos happen to show a portion of a public square, a sculpture in a park, and a part of a library skylight. They are all in Portland, and I have used them in photo books about Portland.

But I will admit and insist that the subject of all three images are LINES. Even though that might not be their only concern, once you study them for more than a second, and either succeed or fail in figuring out the "subject", you will probably appreciate them because you see the same lines that I saw when I was there. If you do, then I have successfully communicated my "wow" and I am happy, especially if you take one home.

Did I go out on a mission to find lines? No. People usually say that I have a "great eye", which I happily concede even though I think they probably do too if they would only free their mind from the subject paradigm. As an architect I was trained to "see" like an artist, and then battered down by program, budgets, and clients until I often couldn't see my art at all beyond getting paid to do something I could love, if they only gave me the chance. That is why being an unalloyed artist, while even less helpful to my bank account, is usually much cleaner - the viewer either is moved , or they aren't.

WAVY RAIL                                                                TANNER SPRINGS B&W : FINAL VERSION

Just because an image is about lines, doesn't mean it can't be about anything else. This black and white version is even more about lines, and maybe texture, because I've eliminated the color - even the grass is now just calligraphy, and the pond is simply a mirror. The trouble for me is that the image was also mainly about color - that orange - even though you don't have to know that you are looking at a railroad rail sculpture. The orange is all important to me (I happen to like orange) because for once I was in the right place at the right time, the late afternoon, when the western sun bakes the rails in golden light to heighten the sculpture's intrinsic orangeness.

CENTRAL LIBRARY 2 (STAIR) B&W                                                                CENTRAL LIBRARY #2 (STAIR) : FINAL VERSION

I'll illustrate my search for line with several other images which vary in their abstract quality to show that seeing lines doesn't have to reduce a photo to a graphic exercise, though there is nothing wrong with that. This view up the stairs is just below the skylight dome in our Main Library, and the intrepid photographer has actually succeeded in getting three diagonal lines to "line up" with the corners, more or less. In color the image becomes more about the warm wood of the railing and the fake marble of the column.

                                    LAN-SU BAMBOO : FINAL VERSION

This image from our Chinese Garden is not really about bamboo, although I do like the five different shades of the stalks. The isolation of the stalks against the stark white stucco wall was what I was after, which shows that the artist who designed the garden also effectively communicated his or her design strategies to me - sometimes you are seeing what someone wanted you to see. Actually this image mostly reminds me of the old-school five scratch lines I use to count up things before I bow to the computer gods.

THE SHADOW KNOWS                                                                  SHADOW LINES : FINAL VERSION

Yes, it is about shadows, and it's not about the bridge, but this image, in my mind, is mostly about the lines. The hint is the way the photographer has not shown the vanishing point further down the bridge, and that I at least tried, more or less, to line up the main line with the left edge of the frame.

STAIRS AND STRIPES                                                                STAIRS AND STRIPES : FINAL VERSION

My title of this image hints at my motivation, in addition to providing a bad musical pun. This detail of three windows lining a stairway is really about the polychrome ( many colors) masonry which the architects wrapped this building in seeming defiance of its neighborhood in London, Whitehall. The architecture, and my image, is all about the lines. The photo loses something in black and white because what it gains in masonry texture it loses in color pop - I do like orange more than the average fellow.

SUNBURST (DAHLIA)                                                     SUNBURST : FINAL VERSION

This closeup of a dahlia is all about the wonderful lines that only nature seems to supply us if we learn to look for them. It also helps to use black and white to remove the color, which was so overwhelming that it was actually kind of painful to look at. It would be even more abstract if I cropped out the borders, but I like the contrast too much. It is a slippery slope when lines turn into patterns, but so be it.

                                   DOODLE #1 : FINAL VERSION

I will end this essay with this last image, one of my personal favorites which I have shown before. Its title was provided by my muse, my wife, who declared her skepticism by labeling it "Doodle #1". I kept that title in an act of artistic defiance, and much to my surprise it has become one of my more popular images. It is all about lines, a little about color, and represents my appreciation of the art of the skylight at Portland's Center for the Performing Arts. In pursuit of my lines I deliberately "blew out" the Portland grey sky by overexposing more than two stops to get that white background.

I would encourage all of you to open your eyes to see things beyond, or in addition, to the "subject" of a photograph. I believe it will free up your artistic juices, especially if you don't think you "deserve" to be called an artist. Like I always say, you haven't begun to be a photographer until the person next to you, usually your spouse, asks you "what the hell you are photographing?" It then becomes your problem as an artist to communicate your enthusiasm, which sometimes is hard. But if we wanted instant and guaranteed emotional responses, we would all restrict our photography to cats, dogs and babies, and that's what Instagram is for.






(Richard Lishner Photography) Sun, 30 May 2021 20:08:09 GMT
YOU ARE AN ARTIST. NOW CONVINCE YOURSELF. GO BY TRAIN                                                       GO BY TRAIN : FINAL VERSION

This week I would like to try to convince dear reader that you are in fact an artist, despite all your efforts to dismiss any notion that you have some talent as a photographer and that someone, somewhere, might find an enjoyable few minutes confronting your art. Now, don't get me wrong - I am not encouraging you to quit your day job, or to even dream that you might actually make money, much less a living, marketing your photographs. That is a subject for another day, after your successful opera career, or your retirement from major league baseball. What I am encouraging you to believe is that your photographs deserve a better fate than the web, and that there is a way of showing off your talents that requires far less of an investment in time than actually making images, and far less money than you spent acquiring your camera equipment, even if you only use a phone.

Most professional photographers would encourage you to print your work, myself included. There is nothing like seeing a well printed image attractively displayed on your wall, and I try to convince most customers in my booth that the image they just showed me on their phone, with some editing, would look great in their house, despite my mission to put one of my images there instead. Working at cross-purposes, you say - well that's why I am a better artist than a businessman.

                                    STUMPTOWN EVENINGS : FINAL VERSION

I am not advocating that you go out and spend a thousand dollars on a fancy photo printer, which is in fact a pretty silly purchase unless you are going to be printing enough that you will in fact have to sell or give away most of the prints because you won't be able to fit them in your house. But if you have several images that you are proud of, find a professional lab and "pay the man" as my wife would say. Your dining room wall will thank you.

                                   AFTER THE RAIN :FINAL VERSION

What I want to recommend as a cheaper and more satisfying alternative for showing off your work is for you to put together your own self-published photo book. These three photos were included in my first book, MY PORTLAND,  which I produced three years ago. If I exaggerate a lot, it took maybe one hundred hours to conceive, write, edit, and produce this 90 page volume. I assure you that your book, unless you really want to be an author, will take far less time to produce. More importantly, you will be just as proud as I was. If you go to your library or bookstore, you will find that most photography books, even the "famous" ones, contain very little writing beyond an introduction and some captions - after all they are books of photographs which are supposed to speak for themselves. In fact, most photographers are hard put to come up with a caption, much less writing that might expand on an image, so do not overthink your task. Assemble a couple of dozen images, put them in some kind of order, and use one of the layout themes provided by the publishing house, and lo and behold, a week later you will have a book in your hands so that you can discover the wonderful world of typos - remember, the less writing the fewer typos. All this will cost you less than $25, I assure you. After another round of editing, you can give away some copies to your friends - you are now a published author, and nobody has to know that their copy is one of the only 3 or 5 or 10 that exist in the world.

                                    iNTO THE WOODS : FINAL VERSION

The important thing of course is to make sure you are having fun. No one is awaiting your tome, you have no deadline, and you can stop for that day any time you want to. In fact I recommend that you do everything in your power to actually trick yourself into making your book, no matter what your topic or theme or project that you start with. After enough assembly and energy, you will discover that you actually have more than enough for your book, and that the hard part, editing your work, is all that is left. It's useful if you find a few photo books that you admire to use as models for your work - steal like an artist -  and use their strategies, layouts, and form as starting point.


I found inspiration in the work of Freeman Patterson, whose has written several books that followed a set pattern unusual in photo books - an image. followed by a short paragraph or two that illuminated that image while hopefully contributing to a central argument. I could do that! You already know that I am at no loss for words, and after kidding myself that I was just writing long captions, what's the big deal, well there was over a hundred pages at two or three photos a session, tops. I had written a book without ever actually having to entertain the frightening thought of "writing a book."

                                    IRA'S FOUNTAIN : FINAL VERSION

A couple of years later, full of the knowledge that if anything , being an author was even less lucrative than being an artist, the Pandemic gave me an excuse to create my second book. The last three images come from that volume. In assembling the first book I had quickly realized that one way of cutting stuff out was to eliminate all but a few of my black and white photos of Portland, so in many ways my second volume, PORTLAND : NOIR ET BLANC, literally wrote itself. I again concentrated on telling anecdotes about Portland, with some additional thoughts about why I thought monochrome was a better strategy for these selected images. I allowed myself a little more freedom in my layout, and found something to do for a couple of hours a day for six weeks in the first half of Covid.

                                     BEN'S WINDOW : FINAL VERSION

I want to encourage you to come up with any excuse you want for your photo book - you do not need any grand project or theme that will shake up the world - it could just be a collection from one trip, or one grandchild, or just the best from last year, or even just your "Greatest Hits" - who cares? Really!? They could all be flowers, or trees, or just blue - and who is to say that your artistic vision is wrong? It's your book, after all, and if they don't like it, let's see them write one!

                                    VENEZIA SUNSET : FINAL VERSION

I have published my books using the BLURB platform, which I would recommend for their printing standards. There are a number of other print-on-demand companies which have allowed this kind of small, essentially micro publishing, to exist. Of course you are paying more than you would at a vanity publisher, but you only print a very few at a time, eliminating the need to invest thousands of dollars for at least hundreds of books that would sit in your study. Remember, it is a fool's errand to think that you will really sell your book - If you sell 2,000 copies of a photo book, you will be on the photo book best seller list most years. When I put out my first book, I enlisted the aid of a bored cashier at Powell's to tell me how well a recently published photo book of Portland, a photographer's twentieth published book, was doing. I had already used it to decide how much to price my book, which I thought was far superior, thank you very much. When I discovered that pre-pandemic, his book had sold only sixty copies at Downtown Powell's, I realized that once again I had failed to discover the magic bullet to fame and fortune. Think about it - a famous photographer puts out a photo book of Portland photographs, and in six months can only sell sixty copies at a world famous store that attracts every visitor to Portland! Add to this the insider's knowledge that if I actually convinced Powell's to put my book  on the shelves, I would actually lose a dollar for each one I sold, and you can see why you are not doing this to make money, just to provide incontrovertible evidence that your photographic efforts have some worth.

                                   YOU ARE HERE : FINAL VERSION

On dealing with BLURB, I have a few suggestions. The printing is great, you can use their layouts with only a modicum of frustration, and they offer a variety of sizes and formats. Your book starts with 20 pages, and the pricing depends on the size, paper, covers, etc. The books are all too expensive, especially at just a few copies, so I recommend using their "magazine" format, which is 8 1/2 x 11 inches, and which they created because they knew their books were too expensive. Go for the more expensive paper, because the standard paper is actually exactly the same as the New Yorker's, and you will realize that you can see through to the next page. The magazine with the deluxe paper is virtually the same as the soft-covered 8 x 10 inch book, at a lower price. The other strategy is to never, never by a BLURB book without waiting for the sale, which will happen at least once a month after you visit the website. In my continuing struggle to understand capitalism, I do not understand why people won't wait a few weeks to get 25-40% of on their book or magazine order, or why a company would continually discount their full price, but you've been informed. You also get discounts for larger orders, but never as much as the sale unless you order more than 100 copies. Since you do get 40% off on books, and only 25% off on magazines, there probably is some math that could encourage you to order a hard-cover for Mom.

The latest book I've just published, A IS FOR ARCHITECTURE, breaks the mold of my first two books.These are a few of the photos included in this book. I decided to write an ABC book for my grandson Isaac, who is 3 1/2 and loves his letters. After some research into the world of ABC books at Powell's (who knew?) I set out to use a collection of some of my architectural images from around the world to illustrate architectural terms. Again, the biggest problem I had was editing, and what started out as a projected 52 page book (2 pages a letter) blossomed into more than 100 pages before my wife got a hold of it and cut it down to 76 pages. I found that I was labeled a war criminal for violating the "rule" that the term must start with that page's letter, and even though I loosened my usually anal layout style, my biggest problem was realizing that the same image could go with several different letters, depending on which term I put to the image.                                    FISH PARKING : FINAL VERSION

I kept myself interested by adapting the Sesame Street principal that I would try to provide some commentary for parents beside the simple captions illustrating that i knew which words started with which letter. I also was inspired by Ambrose Pierce's THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY to inject some thoughts for parents with footnotes which could be ignored by children or censored by adult readers. Thus the long captions of my previous books were replaced by snarky footnotes, and the book again wrote itself.

So now I am beginning to produce another book of photographs, this time of Oregon subjects, mostly produced on the annual Easter Break road trips that I would take with my son Benjamin. I will have to buy a scanner, since most of these images are pre-digital, but I am looking forward to tricking my self into writing another book. As usual, my lack of technological competence in converting the Blurb files into something I can use in this blog has not allowed me to show portions of these books here today, but I assure you they exist.  They are available for purchase on the Blurb site in their bookstore under my name, Richard Neal Lishner. Or you can write me at and I would be glad to sell you a copy of one of my books, all available at $30.00 + shipping, which is usually 3 dollars or so. And remember, you can do this too, no doubt about it - it's not my photo album, it's my BOOK! I AM AN ARTIST!



(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 21 May 2021 19:00:00 GMT
VACATION PHOTOS                                     ISAAC -WHO KNOWS WHAT HE'S UP TO?

I've been away for two weeks visiting my son and his family for the first time since Covid. My thoughts of composing the blog while on cross-country flights were quickly dashed by the reality of delayed, chock-filled flights, so I missed my self-assignment for the first time this year. What is interesting is that after missing two postings, and not promoting on Instagram for two weeks, the numbers of blog readers are up instead of down, so as usual I am just mystified. I am astonished that on average these posts are getting more than 40 readers every week, and am very grateful, despite the fact that I have no idea who my readers are. I think that my limited technological skill allows for comments, but so far absolutely no one has revealed what they like or don't like about my essays. At the risk of trolling, I would love to know what you guys think, and what you would like me to concentrate on. If I haven't set the blog comment settings up correctly, you can send me an e-mail at richarchitect@gmail .com. Again, thanks.

This week I would like to explore the subject of vacation photos, or travel photography in general. It is more than a two-edged sword, for our powers of observation are heightened by the exotic, while we stand little real chance of getting something beyond the cliche because we really don't know anything about the new place. That is why I've always thought that the best images are made by locals, not withstanding the visual excitement of Paris, London, or New York over Wilmington, North Carolina, where I have spent the last two weeks. Don't get me wrong - Wilmington seems like a very interesting, real place, which is a giant step up from the first two stops on my son's early teaching career, Minot, North Dakota, and Murray, Kentucky. Wilmington is a coastal port with a small historic downtown, a variety of nice neighborhoods, restaurants, museums, parks and easy access to a variety of beach towns which are close enough to be suburbs. Yet after two weeks I would not pretend to know anything about it beyond the route to the nearest coffee shop from our rental house.

Of course seeing  the little guy featured at the top of this essay was the prime motivation of the trip, and we had a great time seeing him every day in person instead of on the computer. Isaac is 3 1/2, and while he is subjectively gorgeous and a genius, you've got to admit he is objectively damn cute. My readers know that most of my photography is of subjects that don' move and can't talk back, so the first thing I would say about vacation photography is that you might consider it an opportunity to try something different. This goes along with the theory that most of your efforts will probably backfire anyway, so what's the harm? My portrait skills are rudimentary at best, so combined with my desire to not spend my vacation behind the camera, I didn't take very many successful shots of my grandson. He moves too fast, and is so close to the ground that I usually feel like an NBA center trying to find a guard. Grandpa's knees work against meandering down to his level, but I tried. And since this "professional" photographer barely knows how to operate his on-camera flash, the odds were against me.

                                                               ON THE MOVE


                                    EXCITEMENT - EMOTION OVER TECHNIQUE

These images were among my most successful, and I  think you can see that striving for technical perfection, or even competence, can be the enemy of capturing the joys of a grandchild. The unfocused image with blurred movement probably is the best of the bunch. I found I was better at showing Isaac's interactions with others.

                                    SWIMMING WITH MOM

                                   AT THE OCEAN WITH DAD

                                    WAITING FOR GIGGLES - MATURITY CONTEST WITH GRANDMA

My other thought on vacation photos are to just go with what you are comfortable with, on the theory that our ways of seeing are so ingrained that a new venue really doesn't make much of a difference. Our individual perceptions of a new place will probably reflect our predilections, so just go with the flow and follow your photographic bliss independent of the place you are visiting, since you probably don't understand it anyway.

                                    NEWCOMER TO THE LAND OF MASONRY

                                                               ISAAC'S NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO IS FASCINATED BY LETTERS

                                    TIED UP ON THE WATERFRONT

                                    ON THE SHORES OF THE CAPE FEAR RIVER


These images reflect my taste, and while they don't have much to do with Wilmington, that doesn't mean I can't practice away from my usual Portland haunts. When you go visiting, it doesn't mean you need to abandon comfortable strategies.

                                    A SMALL VICTORY OVER VALUE ENGINEERING

While waiting for my son at his academic office, I could appreciate a detail of the new theater building. I then took a more abstract view.

                                   WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?

This overhang is on the other side of the building, and is an example of what you can glean from a completely unusable grab shot. This high-key image was completely blown out in camera do to operator incompetence. The image is now supposedly one stop underexposed, and to this artist is completely intriguing. By the way, two more stops of underexposure reveals a very ordinary architectural move. I would also add that nothing in the above image is blown out - it's just a mysterious white object taken against a bright sky.

                                   RAIN CATCHER

This is an image of a portion of a modern downspout on campus, completely divorced from reality, much less Wilmington.

Things can get even more interesting when you go to tourist spots, because you are placing yourself in front of interesting things. You can document, but you can also try some interpretation, because again, you really don't get what you are looking at. About two hours from Wilmington my son found the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, the result of a retired farmer's fascination with windmills, a very understanding wife, and a lot of "folk art" talent combined with a lifetime of mechanical ingenuity. Think of it as a rural Watts Tower - and the only reason to ever visit Wilson, North Carolina, which in fact has done a very nice job of celebrating a local talent. We spent an hour there, and couldn't even begin to convey this collection of windmills - and even deciding how to capture the fact that that a big part of their charm is that they are constantly moving!

                                    PORTIONS OF THREE WHIRLEIGIGS

We also traveled to three other spots on our road trip where I took my usual abstract studies of two museums.

                                    UNDERSIDE OF A WWII PARACHUTE AT THE AIRBORNE MUSEUM


I will end this essay with two landscapes, one at an Arboretum and one panorama at a Revolutionary war battlefield. When you are faced with the unusual, at least give it a try - you might get something memorable, even though natives might overlook it.

                                   WE'RE NOT IN OREGON ANYMORE - SPANISH MOSS


I hope that I have conveyed some of the ways you can practice travel photography. Enjoy our renewed freedom to travel, and the various ways you can enjoy making images away from home.





(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 14 May 2021 19:00:00 GMT
SHADOW PLAY                                     BICYCLE SHADOWS - FINAL VERSION

The spirit of today's essay will be play. Sometimes it is hard to describe the goals a photographer has in going out with their camera, especially when they are not in some far-flung exotic location. What are you looking for in a place where you have already spent a good deal of time, that threatens to yield no new images beyond what you have already taken? Yes, I can harp on the "process", on the need to get those 10,000 exposures under your belt to get enough practice to ensure your bona fides as a photographer, but that kind of motivation strikes me as about as much fun as walking laps on the track. I feel that the least a photographic outing should provide is some fun. And I don't just mean a good walk, although there is nothing wrong with that. But remember that as "golf is a good walk spoiled", it is a good idea to juice up your expectations when you head out with your camera by coming up with some artificial thing you might be looking for that day. Of course if an award-winning shot crosses your path you will take it, but is there is something, like a certain lens, or just taking verticals, or shooting black and white with intention, that can motivate you to take a walk in the neighborhood?

One of the ways I've found to play over the years is to go out and look for shadows as a subject in and of themselves. I find them interesting, if occasionally confusing, and of course they are almost always around. Shadows are the yang to light, which is of course the yin photographers are supposed to be painting with. What's also nice about shadows is that they are frequently best when the light "is bad"; photographers who can't stomach sunrise or want dinner instead of sunset can find great shadows at more civilized times of day. This can be very useful if your spouse, like most humans, seems to prefer hiking on a beautiful sunny day, when a "proper landscape photographer" would prefer to be editing their sunrise shots or grabbing a siesta.

The shadow shot can prove that there is no such thing as bad light, and is a boon to the graphic images that I prefer. The shadow is a cousin of the silhouette, in that no detail is expected in a shadow, just a well-defined shape, and a certain amount of soft focus is almost expected. And since the subject of the photo is the shadow, black and white is frequently just as good if not better than color, since shadows, if they have any color at all, are at best just a darker shade of the general environment.

The first photo above is a great example of play. I'm enjoying my croissant on Division Street, way after the light has gone bad, because my idea of breakfast renders brunch quite useless as a slacker construct. I've noticed the shadow of a bicycle locked to a generic publicly mandated bike rack that us urban design types have labeled a "staple". Now I didn't go out to shoot shadows, but the only reason to take this shot is the shadow, and the only reason this take won over the other half-dozen I shot off was the coherence of the shadow. When I looked at the photo later I knew that Black and White was a given.

                                   BICYCLE SHADOWS - OUT OF CAMERA

Now I'm not saying that it might not have been fun to meet the cyclist of this fanciful rig, reality is certainly appalling if you're interested in shadows. Black and white has eliminated all of the distractions of the "color scheme", as well as the blue of the staple and the yellow curb. Monoochrome has allowed me to deepen the shadow, lighten the pavement, and has even seemed to clean up the street and sidewalk. The texture of the wicker basket really comes out, and the shadow play includes a bit of confusion over the gender of the bicycle, since the staple seems to imply a boy's bike. Black and white has solidified the idea that the shadow is the real subject.

                                    M*A*S*H SIGN - COLOR VERSION

Sometimes color photos can be good shadow shots, especially if they really are a monochrome photo, just not black and white. Here is the shadow of what I call the MASH sign in Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square, which highlights the distances and directions of places like sister cities, other notable public square around the world, and throws in a few bad dad jokes to spice things up. By the way, if you want to age yourself, one of the great ways is to call this the Mash sign, because the pretty young thing will have no idea of what you are talking about. In my usual search for abstraction bordering on obscurity, I've now take a photo of a sign without taking the sign itself - only those who have noticed the sign will be in the know. I happen to be an orange fan, but this is a monochromatic image.

                                   M*A*S*H SIGN - BLACK AND WHITE

Now you see what I mean. Black and white does allow me to deepen the shadow, and to lighten the bricks, thus increasing the contrast within Portland's realistic grey range. And you don't have to enjoy orange.

                                   CHELSEA CATHEDRAL : FINAL SQUARE VERSION

Yes, it's a beautiful window, and the texture on the sandstone is certainly benefiting from that great sidelight, but the real subject of this image is the shadow of the flying buttress, whose decoration is only revealed in the shadow. The ace of spades has been played, much to the dismay of your opponent, who just throws up his hands in defeat. And although shadows really don't have color, notice how they can change the white balance - the shadow has brought out the blues in the window glass that are missing in the warmer sun.

                                    BALLPARK SHADOWS : FINAL B&W VERSION

We are at Seattle's ballpark, and we can see why hitters hate day games. In a few minutes that shadow will cross home, and it will be very hard to pick up the pitch when the hitter is in shadow and the pitcher is in the blazing sun. I like the shadow's opposition to the strong curve of the diamond. Black and white allows me to realistically increase the contrast, while eliminating any and all distracting colors in the crowd.

                                    GRID OF SHADOWS : FINAL VERSION

I'm out for a hike with my wife, the light is "bad", but that doesn't mean I can't find shadows on the bridge while she looks at the river like a normal person. By cropping down to remove all context, it becomes all about about the shadows, with some further discussion about their formation. Again the monochrome just exchanges black and white for different wood tones, but does get rid of some potentially distracting wood grain.

                                   WASHINGTON METRO : FINAL VERSION

Shadows require light - that doesn't have to mean natural light. As an urban landscape photographer, it can help to use shadows where you find them, even underground. This detail of the typical concrete coffers of the Metro takes advantage of the lighting scheme , where the ambient light comes from below, and the shadows are reversed from what we normally are used to - kind of like the Halloween lighting of a scary portrait lit by an upturned flashlight.


You can even find shadows at night, as long as their is a light source. This shot of the amphitheater at Pioneer Courthouse Square relies on the deep black shadows to define the stairs lit by the lighting at the square's periphery, beyond the curve. While shadows in nature are frequently just confusing, like in the forest, in urban environments shadows can actually clarify and simplify. It's analogous to reflections in the landscape, which are toned down by the use of polarizing filters (think sunglasses for your camera). Urban landscape photographers delight in the reflections that these polarizing filters are supposed to eliminate! Where is the thin line between reflections and shadows? I think it has something to do with the color of the reflection - black turns it into a shadow, in my opinion, but it can be hazy.

                                    RUINED PIER : FINAL VERSION

This is a silhouette, and it's reflection in Puget Sound, but I think its charm is its charm is the shadowy nature present here. Black backlit logs reflect as black shadows, and the imperfect reflections of the wavy water cause some confusion over where the waterline actually is - only the shadow knows. Please forgive me.

                                    COASTAL SHADOWS : FINAL VERSION

This shadow portrait of my backlit wife reflected in the wet sand also plays on the boundary of shadow versus reflection.

                                    BERT AND ERNIE : FINAL VERSION

This is more silhouette than anything else, but what makes the photo for me is the grid of shadows, beyond the herons on the Willamette, which for the life of me I couldn't understand at the time or later. Yes they are shadows of waves, but why do they cross?  It's almost as if God is having fun like the landscape crew mowing the ballpark outfield grass.

                                                               BRITISH MUSEUM CHARM : FINAL VERSION

Sometimes shadows can help your composition even if they are not the main subject. Here at the British Museum they help in three ways. The side lighting emphasizes the fluting of the columns. The soffit shadow highlights the Ionic column capital in the sunlight. Finally the column's shadow gives me a row of three columns instead of two; our mind's usually like three of a kind much better than a pair, like a poker player. Here the shadow stands in for the third column.

                                   OLD GROWTH MEMORIES : FINAL VERSION

And finally we can play with shadows so much that we can confuse ourselves as much as our viewers. I will try to explain what's happening here, but don't worry if it doesn't make much sense, since it is pretty damn confusing. We are inside the Cathedral, which is what I call our Downtown Apple store. Thousands of dollars are literally being pushed into slots in the tabletops as adherents to our digital religion get their latest fix. I know it's a cult, but the stuff is beautiful, and more importantly, it actually works. As I contemplate the buzz, I notice this apparition in the huge end window wall of the store. It seems that I am looking at a reflection of a large tree superimposed on the window, shadowing the office tower across the street. I cannot see the tree out of the window, and when I go outside the shadow disappears. It's almost like I'm seeing the reflection of a shadow that isn't there. I now I'm beginning to blubber, but in the end I decided that I was seeing the memory of the old growth forest that the building replaced a mere 150 years ago. I'll stick with that explanation, Go have some fun with shadows.

(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 23 Apr 2021 19:00:00 GMT
WATERFALL WEDNESDAY                                                                                                                                                            SILVER FALLS : FINAL VERSION

Welcome to Waterfall Wednesday! If you are at all acquainted with Instagram, you'll recognize that sobriquey from your feed, for every Wednesday brings forth another gusher (downfall?) of waterfall shots from around the world. Human beings can't seem to get enough of falling water, which seems to be the goal of most every hike in a lot of parks and natural areas of all kinds. This is a total victory for aesthetics, as waterfalls don't seem to serve any useful purpose other than to gaze at with an awe that goes beyond the simple appreciation of a cliff face. Since I live in Oregon, you can't even swim in the pond beneath the waterfall without a wet suit most of the time, so tropical visions of skinny-dipping at the end of a hike are even more of a fantasy than in most places. In fact, the coldest water I have ever felt in my life was not off the Maine coast, but in the pool at Proxy Falls in Central Oregon. This waterfall, off Highway 22 on a side road available only in the summer, emerges as glacial run-off on a cliff face from an unknown source, and then disappears just as mysteriously from the pool below the falls. I think the water temperature has been measured at 32 degrees; it doesn't freeze only because it's always moving.

The other thing about living in Oregon is that our waterfalls are so ubiquitous and beautiful that they mostly ruin other waterfalls around the world for us, even while we take ours for granted. Today I'd like to discuss this most common type of woodland photograph, with an eye for showing you how you can move beyond just documentation, even when it's sometimes hard to even get the shot at all. The first photo above is of one of the waterfalls at Silver Falls State Park on the edge of the Cascades between Portland and Salem. I don' remember which one of the falls this is, but consider that there are ten falls on one trail. If you look closely half way down you will see that the trail even goes behind this particular waterfall.

                                                               SILVER FALLS : ORIGINAL

Here you can see several of the problems with waterfall shots. These include framing, exposure, and aspect ratio. Framing a waterfall shot is frequently hard, because it is a waterfall after all, which implies height. Thus either you use a wide angle lens, which tends to make your subject too small in that wide view, or you have to make a decision on which part of an impressive waterfall to exclude. I've found that the most difficult of images are the ones that only cover a portion of the waterfall, especially when you just miss getting the whole thing in the frame. Now in this example I did just manage to get the whole thing in, but I would love to have a little more space, especially at the top. The larger problem seems to be that good quarter of the right side of the image doesn't seem to add much, and the bright pool at the lower right draws your eye away from the subject. This is why I prefer the final cropped version I showed at the beginning, taken a few feet to the right to get rid of the green slope on the left and the bright pool on the right; I still know that I've got the bottom even though I've lost most of the splash. You might also notice I've cloned out those pesky hikers behind the falls, but that's me just being anal. I have also lowered the exposure a bit, which brings up the other problem of waterfall shots - how to deal with the tremendous differences between the usually dark forest and the much brighter waterfall. Straight-up shots usually lose a lot of detail in the fall itself, as it is very easy to clip the highlights in the effort to lighten up the surrounding shadows. Post-processing, which most people don't attempt, is usually the only way to deal with this, especially if you are so silly (!) as to hike on a nice sunny day.

                                    SUDDEN STOP GORGE WATERFALL : FINAL VERSION

The other source for Oregon waterfall shots is of course the Columbia River Gorge, so close to Portland that it is probably the only excuse to live in our Eastern suburb Gresham, which cuts the trip to almost nothing. This is a partial shot of what I think was Latourelle Falls, one of the first of probably half a dozen falls on the original tourist highway to the biggest waterfall, Multnomah Falls. I have come to some degree of certainty of its identity by matching my photo to one of a collection of literally every waterfall in the Gorge that I found on the Google. In any case I feel that it conveys the power of the falls even without including the entire affair. Oh, by the way, it's hard to get a vertical waterfall on a square photo coaster without rendering the waterfall so small as to hardly make it worthwhile.

                                                               GORGE WATERFALL : ORIGINAL

Here I think you can see that the original framing out of camera is not convincing, since I have not managed to include much more of the waterfall at all.

SUDDEN STOP                                     GORGE WATERFALL : BLACK & WHITE

Here is the monochrome version; of course its a matter of taste. I like it better because the parameters of monochrome processing allow me to show more detail in the water at the loss of lichen definition on the rocks. But what do you do if you want the whole waterfall?

                                                                                              WATERFALL PANORAMA #1 : FINAL VERSION

The answer is to try to create a panorama. Remember, no one said that panoramas has to be horizontal! Treat waterfalls like natural skyscrapers, and take a collection of shots, overlapping about a third to include all of the waterfall from top to bottom. Just reverse the usual rules for stitching panoramas - take a series of horizontal shots to include enough of the the surroundings lost to the vertical crop. Remember to scan the scene before, deciding on one focus point and one exposure before setting those values to manual so the software can create the pano without obvious seams. And appreciate the mystery of not knowing how well you've done until the computer has delivered its magic - while realizing that the water is moving, which only increases the complications of stitching multiple images together. The image above is at a 4:1 ratio, which is about the limit before you make your viewers dizzy; 3:1 or 2:1  is more like it, but it is a waterfall, so you have to live with its dimensions.

                                                                              WATERFALL PANORAMA #2 : ORIGINAL

Here we have a more comfortable 3:1 ratio, and I actually like the dark exposure, which creates a bit of mystery and controls the bright sky. But the white balance is all wrong, because we get used to the cool light in the woods. It is frequently necessary to play with the light balance even if you have gotten comfortable with the scene - water is just not that blue.

                                                                                           WATERFALL PANORAMA #2 : FINAL VERSION

Not as dramatic, but certainly that water is a lot more convincing. In opening up the shadows I've revealed a lot more rock detail.

                                                                                           WATERFALL PANORAMA #3 : MONOCHROME

Of course another down-and-dirty cure for white balance problems is to convert to black and white. I've moved slightly further away to include more top and bottom. Black and white allows for more realistic exposure control for the bright sky and foreground tree, which was in sunlight. The white waterfall is still the star, and unless you're a bright green lichen fan, the light grey patch on the rocks will probably do.

                                                                WATERFALL AND ROCK : FINAL VERSION

Sometimes you can concentrate on the foreground if you find it interesting enough to forego the top of the waterfall. I was intrigued by the idea that that rock once fell down the waterfall. Again the "correct" white balance was a lot warmer, but I made it cooler because this looked more realistic to me. It's your photograph!

                                                               ANOTHER ROCKFALL

This scene was sunnier and warmer as I included more rocks; the patch of green shows that scene is correctly color graded.

                                                               WATERFALL MIST : FINAL B & W VERSION

This is one of my favorites, since I think you can get wet by just viewing the image. Those rocks under the waterfall have created another series of cascades on their own, and the overall flow seems almost misty instead of plummeting water. By the way, the scene was so dark that monochrome only substituted very dark shades of grey for near-black shades of green. This image highlights another decision for a lot of waterfall shots - the shutter speed will strongly affect the appearance of the water, ranging from stopping the motion to creating a silky otherworldly effect of a very long exposure. I've found that as usual the Goldilocks compromise of somewhere in between makes for the most realistic rendering of moving water.

                                   ISLAND IN THE STREAM : FINAL VERSION

Here is an illustration varying water speeds in one image, which can be very effective. The water is certainly moving at a rapid rate, but the foreground rapid has a lot more detail than the background swirls, and the crisp vegetation on what looks like a totally submerged island heightens the feeling of water movement. And yes these are mere rapids, reminiscent of what English photographers label waterfalls.

                                    IRA'S FOUNTAIN : ORIGINAL

Finally, let's look at this artist's interpretation of another artist's vision of a waterfall. This is a pretty standard overall view of Ira's Fountain in Downtown Portland. Landscape architect Lawrence Halprin conceived of this Portland one-block park as a Gorge Waterfall in the city, with tons of water collecting in pools and plummeting below to create an oasis of humidity and sound that would provide a respite from urbanity and highlight intermission drinks for the opera fans across the street. He succeeded in creating  a monument while scaring every parent in Portland whose children loved to cavort in the pools, appearing to risk certain death on hot days. Halprin subsequently had to create a nearby "safer" fountain which proved a lot more capable of causing skinned knees etc. In fact the upper pools are pretty deep, and you almost have to try fall down these cliffs. The waterfall successfully negotiated the more than one-story grade differential between opposite ends of the park. The Fountain was later named, in the usual informal Portland fashion, "Ira's Fountain" after Ira Kellar, its most important cheerleader during its long design gestation.

IRA'S FOUNTAIN                                                                IRA'S FOUNTAIN : VERTICAL

We're getting closer to my interpretation of this park. As usual, I'm concentrating on what is important to me while conceding that the ordinary viewer might not get my abstract interpretation.

IRA'S FOUNTAIN                                    IRA'S FOUNTAIN : ORIGINAL SQUARE CROP

Coaster mongers require square images, so we are further on the way towards abstraction. the only remaining problem is that brown concrete, forced on Halprin due to municipal budgets. If you want to see the original Basalt conception, go to Washington, D.C.'s FDR Memorial, which is really four Ira's Fountains, one for each presidential term. Only Portlanders and landscape architects know the long story of a Portland Park arising from the design ruins of a national monument, which then was finally built decades after Ira's Fountain was built. Federal budgets allowed for the original Basalt to replace the "original" concrete.

                                    IRA'S FOUNTAIN : FINAL VERSION

In converting to monochrome, I replaced the ugly brown concrete with cool grey stone concrete; black and white completes the circle to total abstraction. My Portland customers can delight in their  "in-the-know" knowledge this is a favorite park, not a waterfall, while the tourists can posthumously validate Halprin's original idea by asking me which Gorge Waterfall is depicted in my detailed view. The "idea" of a waterfall delights humans where ever they happen to find it, even in their misconceptions.








(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 16 Apr 2021 19:00:00 GMT
STUMPTOWN                                     STUMPTOWN : FINAL VERSION

Today I would like to explore six images of basically the same scene, taken nine months apart over a couple of hours. Three of the images were taken at different parts of the day, while the other three are the result of post-processing. What is interesting to me is that they are all very different, even though they are the same, and that they show how patience on the photographer's part, and the investigation of various interpretations, can yield such different results.

On April 28, 2014, I finally took the time to head up to Pittock Mansion in Portland's West Hills to see what I could get out of a classic view of Portland. Pittock Mansion is preserved as the ultimate McMansion of its day, built on an estate at the top of the West Hills overlooking Downtown. The editor of the Oregonian, Mr. Pittock, conceived of the place as the symbol of his family's domination of the city; he managed to live only a short time after it was finished. You can tour the home, which is quite large but not overwhelming; the only thing I remember of the interior is the quite elaborate, ornate, and curiously clinical Master Bath. Lots of tile, some advanced bathroom contraptions, and all of the built-in cabinets were lifted off the floor to allow the servants to sweep and clean under them, which is echoed in the IKEA cabinets in my own remodeled bathroom.

But the interior of the mansion is not the point at all, for its site is the reason it exists. What's nice about the Portland Park that now encompasses the site is that the bluff overlooking Downtown does not even require an admission fee. You drive up Burnside, past 23rd, past the entrance to Washington Park , and just when you've begun to feel that the nice photographer at Saturday Market has totally led you astray you notice a very small sign on the right leading up a small hilly street past some pretty nice houses to a parking lot for the Mansion. It's open 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM, with some very strict warnings not to come too early and park on the street, or to stay too late since once the gates close you'll be leaving your car and walking a long way home.

                                   STUMPTOWN BLACK AND WHITE : FINAL VERSION

This classic view of Portland tells you a lot about the history and the sociology of our town. While you can't quite see the river, you can certainly notice the abrupt change in character between the two different banks of the Willamette, with the Downtown still defined by the river and the West Hills you are standing on. Height is a shorthand for social status - once the city grew past its first twenty blocks or so, and roads extended up into the hills, you wanted to enjoy the views down into the city so that you literally could keep an eye on your factory, your office building and your workers huddled on the flats below. The mountain was also a nice touch, on the days that it revealed itself. Portland became one of the rare cities in the world that really revealed itself from above - San Francisco and Hong Kong are similar - rather than from the Waterfront. In the days before aviation, much less drones, or very tall buildings, our natural topography allowed us to see our city as a jewel in the Wilderness.

My interpretation of this view was of course dependent on the square crop that fit my coasters. Unusual in a place where most try to show the entire city below, but there you go. The entire view is about four times as wide. I tried to summarize by including two of our icons, Big Pink on the left, isolated as in real life from most of our other skyscrapers out of the frame to to the right. And looming over all is Mt. Hood, seemingly just across the river and taking up at least a third of the horizon. Its size in my frame is due to the compression effects of my telephoto lens, which shrinks the actual sixty miles to the mountain. The square format worked for me because I like Big Pink, hate most of our other towers, and could get the mountain in the same frame. I hope you would agree that if the mountain isn't out, you might as well stay home; and that it pays to go before Summer, when global warming  reduces that snowy crown to dull gray.

Color versus black and white is a matter of taste. Obviously it's nice to have Big Pink pink, and to celebrate a rare blue sky, but black and white adds a sense of timelessness to the image, although most Portlanders will be able to tell the date by which buildings are ther and which are missing. The important thing to me is that black and white seems to allow for a closer inspection of each building without the cacaphony of colors confusing the issue. The snowy white mountain still stands out form the grey sky.

                                    STUMPTOWN ALPENGLOW : FINAL VERSION

Six months later I returned to the scene of the crime to see if I could get something new. The only thing that had changed was that finally the Second Depression (excuse me, the Great Recession) was over, and that our new skyscraper was finally emerging on the far right. This site had languished as a four-story hole in the ground for five or so years, a local symbol of economic catastrophy that mirrored holes in big cities around the world. I seem to remember Chicago  leading the pack with an eight-story hole so overwhelming that it prompted a design competition to use it for something while we all awaited recovery. In any case Big Pink still takes up the left, and the mountain has again made the trip up Burnside worthwhile. February was even better than April, for it fit into my schedule as a "Gentleman Photographer." I leave sunrise shots to my younger colleagues, and if you want to get sunset shots  when it isn't cold you have park on the street and hop the fence, since the bluff is closed before Summer sunset. And don't get me started about snow scenes, since I will not risk my life or my car or put on chains to get up Burnside. It was interesting to experience the bell curve on the bluff that day. I arrived to the bluff at about 4:30 to find it pleasingly empty so as to allow me to set up my tripod at nearly the same spot as in April. The scene and the light were nearly the same, so I took a few shots in the daylight. I don't think I even bothered to process them because they were so similar to April. But as the minutes passed, the bluff filled up, with about two dozen others there to catch sunset. Now since we are facing East, this is not your classic sunset but it's Western counterpart, alpenglow. The setting sun lights up the Eastern sky into varying shades of pink, depending on the cloud cover and elevation - higher works better, hence the alpine derivation. And any real mountains in the scene will be lit up beautifully as well, since they are still catching the sunlight which is rapidly disappearing in the valleys below.

Sunset came, and despite my protests to the tourists that the real fun was just getting started, they all left for warmth and dinner and I was again alone I knew that "blue hour" was soon to commence, so I put on my gloves and waited for the usual best shot of the day. "Blue hour" is beloved by landscape photographers because of the special light of dusk which highlights sky colors in camera long after our eyes say its dark. Now of course you need a tripod, because it actually is pretty dark, and you can't handhold a camera for a several second exposure. Urban photographers like me are even more enamored of "blue hour" since that's when the lights of the city come on. The skyline looks its best lit up before the sky goes pitch black, and the contrast becomes very problematic.

                                   STUMPTOWN EVENINGS : FINAL VERSION

This is "blue hour"; the lights have come on, you see rush hour snaking down Burnside, Mt. Tabor Park on the East side has become the first dark hill on the way to Mt. Hood. And the mountain looks glorious, because the sun is still lighting it up against a dark blue sky. My batteries soon ran out, but the cold was telling me it was time to go home. This is the most popular version of the image with my customers.

                                   STUMPTOWN "NAKED CITY"

I couldn't resist converting this view into a black and white version, despite the beautiful colors of the original. Black and White seems to heighten the dramatic contrast between the city and its natural surroundings. The Mountain glows in the distance, and the pitch black foreground contrasts with the dark grey of the sky. The mood is deeply "Noir", and I feel there is more danger than glamour present in the city below. I like this one the best.

A few years later I created a series of images that I called "Portland Icons", in which I imagined iconic Portland scenes against a gold leaf background. My experiments with real gold leaf are still unsuccessful and ongoing, but I have developed several digital versions.

                                   STUMPTOWN ICON ; FINAL VERSION

I've used the graphic quality of this image to allow me to tone it gold without losing all sense of reality. The daylight black and white is placed as a layer above a gold layer, and the composite replaces all the greys with variations of gold.

That's about it, but I wanted to say something about "Stumptown" which was probably our city's first nickname, coined by derisive visitors soon after Pettygrove and Lovejoy flipped  coin and settled on "Portland." You see that the city that they had platted out in the wilderness was in reality an old-growth forest, with Douglas Firs so large that you could cut them down, but not easily remove the stumps. One of the first laws enacted required that the stumps left on your homestead had to be painted white so that you and all your fellow drunks would not hurt yourself stumbling around after dark. That left a sardonic journalist  to nickname the resulting young city by the river "Stumptown." If they could only see it now.




(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 09 Apr 2021 19:00:00 GMT
ART FOR ART'S SAKE                                    DOODLE #1 : FINAL VERSION

Today I'd like to discuss the loaded topic of art criticism, and its relationship with photography. Most people do not care that much about art criticism, but then they are neither critics nor artists. They appreciate art, visit museums, sometimes hang posters on their walls of art they enjoy, but do not engage in debates about what is art, or how it can be exhibited, or commented on by other artists. As an artist who likes to think he creates art of some value, and hopes others will appreciate my work, maybe even purchase it, I am cognizant of the problem of people using other people's artistic creations without attributing the original artist. While I do recognize the various levels of "commentary"  on art by other artists, I do not think that this is all part of a slippery slope. After all, I am a photographer whose principal subject has always been my appreciation of the work of other architects, (who I would claim are artists) it would be hard for me to say that my photographs of their work should not be "allowed", or that I am "using" them in the pursuit of monetary gain that clearly does not exist when you peruse my Schedule C. To various degrees in the examples that I will show here, I firmly believe that my photographs show my appreciation of this artistic work, and my interpretation of that work - which makes them my art, even if it is based on theirs. To the degree that my art diverges from documentary work, its value becomes based on my viewers appreciation of what I have to say about the art, rather than the original work of art.

The first photo is my interpretation of a piece of glass art that is a feature of the lobby of the Portland Center for Performing Arts, part of our attempt at a more modest Lincoln Center. This skylight over the lobby is embellished by both its pattern of structural framework, and the colorful pieces of mostly blue glass bars seemingly casually strewn over said framework. I think it is a beautiful piece, and a wonderful example of "1% for art" which funds art in public buildings. The artist,  James Carpenter, is one of the most famous glass artists in the world, which means that he is not really that famous, since this kind of work, like large sculpture, usually requires public funding - you can't pick one up for your home. It sometimes causes conflicts with those other artists, the building's architects, who might not like the art chosen to embellish their work or at least might be jealous of its power in their space. Once I was volunteering in this building and encountered the architectural detail of the skylight. I just couldn't stop laughing when I realized that that pattern of glass was supposedly specified in the drawing. This implied that the workers were actually following a plan when they laid these strips, when in all probability they at most responded to the artist's desire to move  that piece "a little to the left" as he guided construction from five stories below.

Now I happen to love this particular piece of art, and as a photographer I "transformed" it in several important ways. I removed the context, the extent, and the scale of the piece. While you might not have to be an architect to realize that you are looking at a skylight, there are no clues to its placement, overall shape, or size. My framing is my interpretation of the art, changing its circle to my square, using only a portion of the whole work, and placing the center of the "spider web" where I want it in my frame. I also made a personal exposure decision, "over-exposing" the scene by 2-3 stops, to bring out the glass of the blue bars and mostly to render the Portland sky as white instead of the usual dull grey. I am arguing that this image is my take on Carpenter's art, and I truly do not understand why my photographic interpretation is somehow less pure than a critical essay in an art journal. My title is actually my wife's comment on my art - she does not  understand it at all, so I of course used her less than enthusiastic reaction as its title.

                                    BEAT-UP FORD : FINAL VERSION

This is what the purists would reduce photographer's "proper" subjects to. I am creating art (you don't have like it) out of thin air, suggesting the beauty in an old rusted truck. I don't think the Ford Motor Company would attempt to challenge my copyright violation in this case, but most people would clearly recognize this as my art. In writing this essay I have actually realized how interesting it can be to actually discover the origins of the public art that I have noticed, and how easy it often is to acknowledge the creators. Yet my Google research has also led me to realize how much my art is my art. As my research into the public art has shown  me how much my photographs have changed the documentary, straight-up  view of the art, its convinced me that few viewers would argue that I have not put enough of myself into my commentaries of other people's art.

                                   BIKE CITY : FINAL VERSION

Uh, owe, grab those handlebars, we are heading down the slippery slope. I made this image a few years ago of a clearly recognizable mural in Old Town. I do not remember if there were any words attached, but I clearly responded to the Portland branding efforts on the old brick wall. Do I know the muralist? No. Again do you know the murals location (four stories up) or how big it is - only if you count the bricks. You do know that some artist, or at least sign painter,  better than me, used a recognizable traffic symbol on a bare brick wall in Portland, Oregon. It actually was originally a mural advertisement for a neighborhood bike rental store, Pedal Bike Tours. The city made the owner Todd Roll (how's that name for a bike shop owner?) remove the words proclaiming Portland the bike capital of the USA because the sign was "too big", so I never saw the words. The art was copied off the store's t-shirt logo so there the artistic trail ends. Recently the mural has been covered by a five-story office building, so now my art is one of the only records of this piece of public art. Does this enhance its value?

                                   ORANGE MONSTER : FINAL VERSION

Another mural, somewhere in Portland. I was scared, and not showing the full extent of the jovial monster just increased my apprehension, as did my inability to interpret those curious symbols below his mouth. This is public art, out in public, designed to elicit a public response. It doesn't matter if it wasn't part of a 1% of art program - yes I didn't pay for it with my taxes, but to say that my 4" x 4" photo coaster is an unfair use of this wall-sized art piece is somehow infringing on the original work is a little too much for me. It turns out that the artist goes by Yoshi47 and has painted numerous monsters on walls around the world. This one is on the ADX Building in SE Portland, and it was only when my research showed me the horizontal block-long original that I realized how much I had changed it.

                                   OREGON TRAIL : FINAL VERSION

Now lets move away from "folk" art to maybe more serious works. The image above is my take on what should be a famous piece of wall art, a mural at a party wall adjacent to The Oregon Historical Society that shows various symbols from the settler's journey along the Oregon Trail, as well as the Lewis and Clark Expedition. This is a portion of a "trompe de l'ioile" painting, a "fool the eye" work done by one of the current world masters of the art, Richard Haas. None of what you are looking at is real. The party wall is mostly tan concrete block and some brick, but that sculpture, its setting in a curved alcove, those shadows - are all fake; it's just a painting, a remarkable one. There is one real window in the wall, and I don't even remember if that is the real one, or one of the fake ones, and I hesitate to declare that curtain real or artistic. All I know is that this piece is wonderful, I responded by showing one portion, and that I can't even take credit for being there when the light was "best" since even the light is fake.

                                    STREETS OF HOPE : FINAL VERSION

Another piece of "trompe de l'oile", this one a full block long near Portland State University. It obviously has something to do with the PSU library, but I don't know its origins or purpose except for making a bare wall beautiful. I picked a particular portion for it's colors, and its collection of seemingly unrelated volumes - and included a portion of the real street so my viewers could appreciate the art's deliberate out-of scale reproduction of the pile of books. The work was conceived by Harrell Fletcher and Avalon Kalin, and the resultant piles of books, selected by PSU faculty and students, were photographed and enlarged by Motoya Nakamura. It is actually entitled "The Knowledge."

WAVY RAIL                                                                TANNER SPRINGS : FINAL VERSION

On to sculpture. This is a small portion of a block-long, 15-foot-tall sculptural wall at Portland's Tanner Spring Park in the Pearl District. This work is composed of 368 or so pieces of the railroad rails that were part of the railroad yards that formerly covered our attempt to convert an industrial wasteland into SOHO West. The rails curve and rise out a pool to form a fence at street level a story above that adjusts for the change of grade across the Portland block that became the park. The pond represents one of the existing creeks covered by the growing city - this one no doubt heavily polluted by the tannery that stood by it, thus Tanner Springs. I love the sculpture, and my framing divorces it from its surroundings, especially the walkway across the pond, which i personally think is the park's only real mis-step. The rails really look somewhat like this if you catch them when I did, when the western sun is rally beating down and lighting them up. I haven't been able to find an artist, so credit must go to Peter Walker & Partners, the lanscape architecture firm for the park.

                                   SWIMMING UPSTREAM : FINAL VERSION

Okay, I like orange a little more than the next guy. This very creative and amusing sculpture bursts through a corner of the Park Blocks above a seafood restaurant. It took dozens of questions from tourists for me to finally realize that this was a corner of Salmon Street. I isolated the sculpture, as I usually do. since I didn't see how how the adjacent industrial windows, or it's real location above the street, enhanced my take on the sculpture. The sculpture is called "Transcendence" and is by Keith Jollum, who seems to lkie obscure titles as much as I do. This is one of the few images that does not improve with much enlargement at all - it's not that the sculpture is not great, it's just that as the salmon gets too large it gets too ugly.


Now let's talk about fame. Sometimes we forget that a symbol is also just a piece of art, which deserves to be looked at closely and interpreted even though we all know what it looks like, or at least think we know it, since it seems to have been seared into our collective brains. Few know who the sculpture was, and until you visit you can't even appreciate its enormous scale or its placement on an island in New York harbor. Leave it to me to focus on her back, maybe to emphasize that it is a sculpture that does have a back, or maybe because that's where the ferry went. I also converted it to black and white to emphasize detail and form, and because I dislike the particular shade of green that the largest copper statue in the world has become  after more than a hundred years of humidity. Does this toga make me look fat?

                                   PORTLANDIA : FINAL VERSION

This is the second-biggest hammered copper statue in the world. It is Portlandia, a representation of the mythical queen of the mythical kingdom of Rosaria, which if you can believe it was conjured up by upstart city boosters to preside over our annual Rose Festival. What a load of hooey, but 1% for art bought the good citizens of Rosaria, uh Portland, this statue by Raymond Kaskey to preside over the front of our misbegotten Municipal Government Center. This building, a Post Modern monument by Michael Graves, was the result of a rigged and under-funded architectural competition that saddled us with a leaky, unstable structure never even lived up to Graves' original conception and made life miserable for the city workers stuck in there. Don't get me started. The only good thing that came from the whole affair was this statue, but ever since Mr. Kaskey, bless his heart, has made life miserable for every other artist in town. He seems to think that this piece of public art, paid for by the public, can never be interpreted, or even recorded, by any one on the street. So I long since stopped exhibiting this image, or selling coasters which carefully acknowledged Kaskey on the back. It just doesn't seem worth it, because this guy doesn't seem to be mollified by the idea that a sculpture by Raymond Kaskey can be interpreted in a photograph by Richard Lishner. He doesn't respect my ability to comment on his art, so to hell with him - I won't put his sculpture before the public, who know that my photo is probably better than the one they took..

                                    CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR : FINAL VERSION

I thought this was a Henry Moore sculpture. After much research it turns out to be a work of an Australian sculptor Clement Meadmore.  It stands outside the Portland Art Museum, so it's about as public as art can get - you don't even need a ticket, although I'm sure some guard would eventually respond if you circled around on the raised lawn to see how the other side looked. The work is entitled "Split Ring" and is actually a twisted ring of Corten Steel in real life. Meadmore found some way to resist the usual orange tinge of Corten Steel, so I guess he didn't like orange as much as yours truly.I love the way the two strands almost touch but don't, and my interpretation ignores the other facets of the work. So while I know that Meadmore  thought that this was really important, I feel that it is REALLY important, so I can try to draw my viewers attention there. So much so that the nature of the actual sculpture is actually lost.

I like the image even better in black and white, which seems to be even more graphic - the bricks are just a field of texture, and I no longer remember what color or colors the two segments are in reality - it now seems to be even more about light. Especially since the steel is only one color.

                                    REBAR MEMORIES : FINAL VERSION

Finally we come to a special case of the critical question of "whose art is it anyway?" I have what at best might be characterized as a love/hate relationship with this example of public art.  In this I am unusual, because for most Portlanders, to know it is to positively hate it. This is one of three sculptures that stand at the East end of the Hawthorne and Morrison Bridges across the Willamette River. They are collectively titled "Inversion: Plus Minus" and were created by Annie Han and Daniel Mhalyo They represent the memory of the warehouses that once stood in the district, and well, I guess I can understand that. I am sure that Annie and Daniel are very nice people. They  got the money for the sculptures from a 1% for art program although I don't remember what project they were 1% of.  I do know that my fellow citizens think that they are the most god-awful waste of money, especially their money, in living memory. You see, they are made of various sizes of rebar, and they almost can't help being ugly, no matter how historically inclined your memories can run. Rebar strengthens reinforced concrete, and no matter how ugly you might think concrete is, the hidden rebar is even uglier. The sculptures are huge, and they are rusted rebar, and while I am waiting for the light at the end of the bridge, my thoughts frequently  involve what might happen if an errant semi-truck happened to hit the sculpture - as long as there was no injuries, would it matter? They are that ugly.

Now I actually love this image, and so do most people who notice it in my booth. They cannot believe what is pictured once they realize its subject. They HATE the sculpture, but they love the photograph. They are actually almost shaken in their hatred of the original work of art. You see my image is all about the light - the beginning of a sunset through the sculpture. My exposure rendered the sculpture as the silhouette that who knows, maybe the artist actually had in mind - and renders the rebar invisible. The rebar that so repels is now just a series of intriguing black lines. I've created an ink sketch on a golden background.  And I honestly can say that this particular work of art will never look as good in real life. This is as good as it gets. In my humble opinion, my work of art has actually elevated the original that some would say I have no right to interpret in a photograph. Intriguing.






(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 02 Apr 2021 19:00:00 GMT
OLD GROWTH, NEW GROWTH, OLD GROWTH NEW GROWTH                                                              OLD GROWTH, NEW GROWTH : VERTICAL

This week I'd like to take a detailed look at two of my images that sum up most of my feelings about shooting in the forest, or as our English friends say, "woodland " photographs. I believe there are certain helpful hints, not "rules", that are useful when you are attempting to show your wonder at forest scenes. These two images are among my most successful, and for once the public seems to agree with me since they are among my most popular images.

The first image above was made on or near the Mackenzie River in Central Oregon on a reasonably long hike that followed a ridge line and allowed for long-range views of the forest edge. This area is quite beautiful, with some great hikes, places to soak in mineral springs, see a Clear Lake so clear that you will not believe it, and generally follow the Mackenzie on the way to Bend. What attracted my eye was the phenomenon seen in Spring, when you can clearly see the new growth at the branch ends of our native fir trees. The contrasting shades of green against the overall dark forest clearly told me it was Spring, and the forest was renewing itself.

Why do I believe this image works? It follows my three hints for making woodland photographs:

1. Whatever you do, try not to include much, or if possible, any sky, unless the photo is really about the sky. Humans naturally are attracted to the brightest parts of any scene, and even on cloudy days the sky is probably much brighter than the woods. Any sky included, unless it is a very small part of the scene, will attract viewers attention from the subject at hand. So just leave it out! The lack of a horizon in any landscape image will focus viewers attention elsewhere, and this kind of immersion is especially helpful in conveying "a walk in the woods."

2. It's probably best if it is a cloudy day, since the bane of most woodland photos is the excessive contrast that is often part of the scene, even if you are smart enough to lose the sky. Our eyes adjust much better to high contrast scenes than our stupid cameras do, so often we review our images with a disappointed sense that the scene was a lot more chaotic than in real life - the camera registers, and cannot smooth out, all that sun and shade that our minds adjust to. So that great beauty dish, otherwise known as cloud cover, is great for a walk in the woods.

3. The woods are quite a chaotic place, even if it's not the Amazon Rain Forest. There is hell of a lot going on, and our job as image makers is to distill and make some kind of order out of the chaos, to offer our viewers a point of view. In the woods it is often not just why am I interested in that, but something even more basic, like what the hell am I looking at? The viewer was not there, was not looking, so we have to orient them, find some order in nature. This is the artistic element, bringing a composition together that will show the viewer where to look, and what to recognize in the scene that caused you to go "wow." Compositional elements like line, form, and color will as always play a large role, if you can find them and make them apparent to the viewer. Otherwise you are risking ARAT, the derisive acronym some photographers use for these landscapes, "Another Rock, Another Tree." So since we want our images to be about something in addition to "the woods", this involves leaving things out in such a disorganized natural environment. Like most photography, we are trying to take things out, a distillation process rather than an additive one like painting.

As you can see, the woods are hard because some of the things photographers look for, like contrast or light itself, can only cause problems in such a setting. A fine landscape photographer you can find on You Tube, Adam Gibbs, specializes in the woodland, and has even entitled his recent monograph "Quiet Light", because that is what he is looking for in the woods. It also helps if you can conjure up fog, the ultimate forest simplifier, which most English photographers seem to encounter at the drop of a hat.

NEW GROWTH In this image, i ve left out the sky, went on my walk on a typically cloudy Oregon day, and tried to respond to the overwhelming pattern I was seeing in the forest. I wasn't looking at one tree, but at all of the trees, and as far as the viewer is concerned,this pattern was never interrupted, because I deliberately did not reveal its extent - no sky, no riverbank, no bare patch. These two versions show two subtle exposure differences as well as the square coaster crop. In the first slightly darker exposure I showed clearly that I didn't care about those deep dark woods, letting them go pretty dark. I went lighter in the second attempt to try to emphasize the light tips even more, but maybe that lightens the woods too much. Like most things, the Goldilocks spot is probably somewher in the middle. Although I have gotten used to the square crop after selling so many coasters, I like the original vertical since these are trees after all, and they "look better" as taller objects, even if you don't show their bottoms or tops. Sort of like skyscrapers in my usual urban context.

NEW GROWTH Well here I have done two things. I've taken the compromise position between the basic 4:6 ratio native to my camera, and the 1:1 coaster ratio, by going to that classic 4:5 ratio beloved by framers everywhere, who still cling to the historic 8 x 10 or 16 x 20 ratios which were once natural enlargements of 4 x 5 view cameras. This squarer ratio seems to work here, and the monochromatic treatment allows for darker woods and brighter tips. But I'm really missing the shades of green brought out in color, and it's interesting that Lightroom can't differentiate between these two shades, so that I can't treat them as different colors in black and white, just different light levels. So at least here I think the color version has more to offer.

                                    NEW GROWTH, OLD GROWTH : FINAL VERSION

He' so clever isn't he, with his captions - too clever by half, since I'm always confusing these two images since I named the second in relation to the first. Thi image was made in Olympic National Park In Washington State, but of course it could be taken in most any forest in the Pacific Northwest. The square crop, the light, and the natural color differences between the young Vine Maple and its older and darker fir trees, places Vine Maple front and center. Since even my focus was on the bright green leaves, the Vine Maple literally jumps out of the composition, in both sharpness and illumination. These contrasts give the viewer something to focus on. I've again denied viewers both the ground and the sky and even the top of my subject. But you are there, even though you don't exactly no where "there" is, because you can almost touch the tree.

Not bad, if I say so myself. Black and White allows me to highlight the contrast to the degree that the Vine Maple still jumps out of the darker woods, even though all the greens are now shades of grey. I'm actually only troubled now by the lighter fir in the middle background, whose natural grey color no longer contrasts as well as a background for our green leaves. But upon further work, Lightroom should be able to darken the grey tree more than the green leaves - but not bad, since contrast was really the organizing principle. I still like the color version better. And since I have of course misplaced the original file, you'll have to take my word for it concerning the incredible power of my square crop. I'll let that be it for today, but I will throw in a few more shots to let you look for more organizing principles in the woodland. Among the most important is the water that makes the forest in the first place. This subject is readily available since most of our hikes are usually oriented around watercourses of various scales - the operating principal of most hikes being to try to follow the most walk-able grades, even up mountains. Thus a river is usually a good bet, although "Waterfall Wednesday" on Instagram makes it clear that most people are most excited when the grade abruptly changes. Water's organizing power is offset by its vast difference in luminosity  to the forest, but if we can control that through exposure choices it can provide great focal points on our walk through the woods.

Streams can work as well as rivers, and its often more credible, since you are on a bank, not standing in your waders in the rapids.

And finally you can use a very intimate view to still say forest, even if it just some rain drops and the trees are upside down. Notice how the recognizable geometric circles clue you in on to what you are looking at, even as you have fallen through the looking glass. Enjoy your next walk in the woods.





(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 26 Mar 2021 19:00:00 GMT
DARTMOOR DARTMOOR #1DARTMOOR #1                                                                  DARTMOOR #1 - FINAL IMAGE

Today I'd like to explore the opportunities, frustrations, and the humble enjoyment of the products of travel photography.  We all have missed the opportunity of travel in this past year, when a trip to the grocery store became an anxiety-producing highlight of the week. Landscape photographers endeavor to search far and wide for beauty not readily accessible to their potential patrons. We try to leave no trace but at the same time come away with a unique, or at least different take on a place. This is not easy. We are often experiencing a place for the first time, encountering sensory overload, and soon realizing that despite our best "research" efforts, we have no idea of the true nature of this new subject. 

I have reflected often that photographers usually do their best work in the places they know best, are intimately connected to, and have frequent opportunities to try something different on another day. This makes the very idea of attempting to come up with something worthwhile when you encounter a place for the first, and probably the last time in your life, somewhat ridiculous. But of course we try anyway, and it really helps to lower expectations, enjoy the process, and realize that although part of the reason that you came was to capture images, you are really trying to enjoy the trip. It's a good idea to consider any "keeper", no matter how rare, to be unexpected gravy. And to remember that the National Geographic photographer, one of the "best " in the world, took thousands of shots over far longer than you could afford to stay in that place; it probably wasn't their first rodeo either. So in the spirit that in order to improve your photography do not buy some new piece of photographic gear, but to go stand in front of some more interesting places, let's talk about a few images of one of my favorite landscapes.

Dartmoor is a very special place in Southwest England. I have only been their twice, but have very vivid memories, most of which I was not able to preserve on film. It is not an easy place to photograph, because in some ways it is a bleak, forbidding landscape that only reveals its beauty upon close inspection that might even be dangerous to the unwary. A moor in England is a piece of countryside that for some very good reasons has never really been used by humans, (except to deforest) for several thousands of years. It's a funny kind of "wilderness" in that it is certainly very wild, but people have tried to use it, and just gave up - and while it is protected to some degree now as parks, it is usually right in the middle of England's "green and pleasant land". Moors are so weird in that an American is not used to the typical English rural landscape which has been cultivated for thousands of years to within an inch of it's life - and then encounter literally next door a patch that has been forgotten for just as long.


This is not Dartmoor, but a typical English rural landscape, if there is such a thing. It's not Times Square, but that stone wall was laid block by block, usually without mortar, hundreds of years ago, to divide agricultural land of varying amounts of immense value. That's an awful lot of work, and signals the land's value even to a casual American visitor who is just trying to drive in an empty landscape on the wrong (right) side of the road. In England the next village with its choice of pubs is usually right around the corner; it is very difficult to be in the "middle of nowhere" - that's why you go to Scotland.

And then you get to Dartmoor. I had already gotten the basic introduction in reading one of the best Sherlock Holmes tales, "The Hound of the Baskervilles." This mystery sends Sherlock and Dr. Watson far away from Baker Street to investigate a murder with strange supernatural overtones on Dartmoor, which might as well be on the Moon. The novel is so creepy that it is hard to do it justice on film, although I've seen at least three versions. Dartmoor is not only the setting, it is one of the main characters.

                                     ON THE EDGE OF THE MOOR - FINAL VERSION

Dartmoor is a patch of moorland that is only about 30 miles square, right smack in the middle of Devon, a prototypical English county with market towns, cathedrals, pubs, vicars, gardens and Bed & Breakfasts to satisfy any visitor. There is nothing in Dartmoor, and there has never really been anything there. It is empty. There are some ring roads around the moor and only two real roads that cross it. At their junction is Britain's highest security prison, which is not high security. Unless a helicopter came along, or you had a get-away driver at the prison entrance, then any escaping prisoner would die before they got off the moor. It is   bleak, featureless, with few landmarks that can guide you, especially when the mist comes up, that visitors are warned to not venture  into the moor beyond sight of the road. And beware of the bogs, that can swallow you whole!

Okay, I'm being a little dramatic, but only a little. You can go on You Tube and accompany hikers across the moor, but realize that it has to be done in one day because there are no towns or campgrounds. And your headlamp will be the only light for miles around. The first time I went to Dartmoor was in 1976, when I happened across it on a three-week Easter break journey around Britain. I was so young and "poor" that I traveled mostly by bus, with a bus pass so obscure that I usually introduced it's existence to each bus driver I showed it to. Other wise I hitched, usually alone, until I realized the utility of having a young lady along to encourage rides. I found myself at a small town on the southern border of the moor, and decided to walk that day to the nearest hostel on the northern border, about 15 miles away. I did not see another human being all day, unless you count the two fighter pilots that boomed past me a couple of times. I did encounter thousands of sheep, who seemed to keep to the road as much as I did. The place was beautiful, in that edge of the world way, and listening to my trusty guidebook, I did not venture very far from the only road that I was traveling on. That was probably a very good thing, since I later found out at the pub that night that this idiot had walked alongside a RAF bombing range for most of the day.

               SUN ON THE MOOR

Well after that adventure I was hooked, so that 33 years later I dragged my wife back to Dartmoor. Now at least I had a rental car, and we spent one day on and around the moor. Of course it had not changed a bit, and we could only stay in the very nice town of Dartmouth which was on the coast about 20 miles away. But we did get to go to some more of the sites around the moor, and my wife was suitably impressed with the bleakness, which is her cup of tea when it comes to landscapes. Dartmoor did not disappoint.

We met some of the wild horses along with the sheep. This is a wild animal, minding its own business a couple of miles away from town.

This was the big intersection that day. You can see that there are farms at the edge of the moor, but beyond that last hedge is 20 miles or so of nothing. Princetown is where you go visit Cousin Harold in prison. At another edge of the moor we found a large church, medieval in character but constructed of mostly cinder block.

It did have a very nice front door though. I mostly just tried to capture some of the feel of the moor, and mostly failed. But I did try.

This is the road around the moor, and you can see that parking is really easy - its figuring out where to go and how not to get lost is the hard part. In fact most of my shots that I did actually try to make a little more of that day came just off the same section of road near that road sign we saw before. And I actually put in a lot of work just this past year in post-processing to really come up with some images that I  can be proud of.


I don't own a wide angle lens, which leads me to avoid the "heroic" landscape image, the all-encompassing view, because I don't have the equipment, which is because I really don't see that way. But I have been experimenting with the digital technique of "stitching" together several shots, taken with a regular, or even telephoto lens, to achieve a wide angle view. This is harder than just using a wide lens, but it is not that hard. You take a range of shots, overlapping 25% or so, so that the computer has something to "match." While you can be pretty scientific, or just anal, and use a tripod and make calculations, I've begun to believe more experienced stitchers than myself when they say to just have fun and wing it. The software is pretty darn good and usually works to some degree - and again depending on how anal you are you can really work to make the edges of the meld more seamless. There are only a couple of things to remember. You will soon get the feel of the correct overlap - sometimes too much overlap will confuse the hell out of the computer and you will get an ugly multiple exposure effect. You also must go manual in both focusing and exposure, since you don't want the camera in its infinite wisdom changing either one as you move across the scene. So pick focus point (these are landscapes, so 1/3 into the scene is the usual) and switch to manual to hold it there. The same with exposure - move your camera across the scene, find the brightest portion you want to hold detail in without clipping, and go to manual with that exposure before you take various different shots so that the only light changes are the real ones across the scene.

I think It is pretty remarkable what you can come up with. These panoramic photos are much "wider" than you can get with most wide angle lenses. It is pretty easy to achieve aspect ratios twice or three times as wide as the height of the image. Once you do that you realize how unrealistic it is to compose and print a meaningful image at larger ratios - 4x or 5x wide begin to lose compositional focus way before you've "run out" of images that you are trying to stitch together. 2x or 3x is really quite a panoramic view. Back in the day panoramic film cameras, dependent on realistic divisions of rolls of film, achieved ratios of 16:9, less than 2:1, or 16:7, still less than 3:1. The problem becomes achieving a good height so you can include enough foreground and/or sky without cutting off parts of the world we are used to seeing when we "take in the view." Thus you take the horizontal image with a series of vertical images, to get the maximum height for your "pano"; that's another reason to use a tripod, or at least practice at steady hand-holding, because the natural tendency is to slope downward as you move to the right across the scene. The more level your pan, the less you will lose when the camera has to crop out missing edges on a succession of shots.

If you look at the hill above, you will realize how narrow the normal view of my lens, about the "natural view" of our eyes, is in comparison with the stitched image. You can also clearly see how big the panorama could be printed, because this portion could take quite an enlargement and keep detail, and it's only about half of the panorama!

Here's what can be involved in a shot like this, done without any of my present-day stitching knowledge. These are the eight different shots that became part of this image:

The computer allowed me to create this image out of these various views:


I like this composition better - I'm a little further back and to the left to include that tree. Now how remarkable is this software magic, you ask? Consider the fact that I took these shots twelve years ago, way before anyone, much less yours truly owned the software required to do these things. I was dreaming of doing what was called a "combo", inspired by the English artist David Hockney, who had shown the way by creating very interesting mosaics of scenes by combining grids of Polaroid instant prints. Inspired to dream, but I never did anything until years later when I thought of giving it a try with this new software. So I can say that I literally did not know what I was doing, did not do much "right" and still got these results. Not that there weren't problems - the first time I tried this image I was very confused when I ended up with two trees! As it is, I spent a few hours after I resolved that in manually correcting the exposure on the right side of the tree, and I'm not convinced that I've done enough if I enlarge it much beyond the 4" x 12" print I have successfully made.

The amount of information that these images contain involves opportunities as well as pitfalls. You better like coffee, because these files are measured in gigabytes, and Lightroom slows to a crawl - you have to have something else to do, and you can't do anything else on your computer while these images are being assembled. You must inspect the file at 1:1 because there might be artifacts you can't see while you are looking at the whole image. This image could be printed at 40" x 120", so that's lots of inspection. It works the other way too - what appears as a sensor spot, a piece of dirt, on a 4 x12, is revealed to be a very sharp bird in flight when you enlarge the file to a size you could print , but you could not display.

         This is my personal favorite. We are a little more to the left, have lost the tree and the hill, but we have gained the final section of stone wall at the last farm. with it's forlorn gate. That enigmatic pile of stones in the middle ground suggests either an abandoned project or a natural barrier to further cultivation - who knows? Now a revelation is in order - stitching is not the only way to create a panorama; you can also do it the real old-fashioned way, by cropping a mediocre shot without mercy until you get what you thought you had seen.Here is the original, at my camera's standard 2:3 ratio:

Well if you eliminate a little of the boring foreground, and a large part of the really boring sky, as they say in old-time Hollywood, "Now you've got a picture!"

             DARTMOOR #2 - FINAL VERSION

This panorama is 2:1, under control, with more than enough detail to ponder, now that the photographer has actually taken the time to correctly frame his panorama to focus on the subject at hand.

So there is my all-to brief foray into both Dartmoor and the possibilities of this "new kind of wide angle." I'm experimenting, but I still like the close up. Here's my best take on the tree, in my opinion. I wish there was more separation of the tree from the background, but I really like the back lighting on the scene as a whole. Don't give up on your images of favorite places, and treasure the memories they can provide and the way they can communicate your delight to viewers who unfortunately will never get a chance to experience these wonders themselves.

DARTMOOR #1DARTMOOR #1                                                                DARTMOOR #1 - FINAL VERSION





(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 19 Mar 2021 19:00:00 GMT
NEW YORK JEW                                     GOTHAM - FINAL VERSION

Now I know that the title of this essay might strike different people as provocative, or even wrong, in many different ways. Let's just say that in my usual way, I'm being brutally blunt, even if might not agree completely with this personal identification. I've settled on this label after 64 years, in the spirit that I might as well embrace it in a positive manner, since a lot of people are going to think of me that way, depending on the circumstances.

I take this title from the third volume of Alfred Kazin's memoirs. He had started out on his life by being just "A Walker in the City."  By his third volume this great American literary critic summed up his career by embracing the term that he felt that most of his contemporaries in American Intelligentsia had used for decades as a shorthand insult. I think he felt that he had triumphed over their condescension and now could proclaim his representation  even while he suspected that it really had little to do with his successful career.

I guess I feel pretty much the same way - especially when you put these identifiers in context. When I lived in London in 1976, I was clearly an American - nothing else mattered, even when I might be an Australian until I opened my mouth. When I worked behind the bar in a pub, I was the resident Yank, and no one cared where in America I was from or where I went to "church." I grew up in a New York neighborhood so Jewish that an unenlightened person might think that of course think that condition was near normal, unless you were another ethnic minority. I don't think I consciously met a WASP until I went off to college, since all of the few Christians I ever knew were Catholics. And when we moved to Portland, we confronted a reality that our neighbors couldn't even tell if we came from Boston or New York, and that our Jewish community had now expanded as part of our lives, even while its representation in the city had of course gone way down. The fact was that the vast majority of the Jews in Portland were also from somewhere else, and that everyone in town seemed so excited that we were not from California.

So I must say that as a Jew, for me its really all cultural, or as my wife might say, even just culinary. I'm not really religious, or even spiritual. I'm not sure I believe in God, although I admit that I complain to the man upstairs a lot for someone who doesn't believe he exists. After reading a lot of history, I guess I just take some pride in being a member of a tribe which on the whole has made some positive contributions to history, and has somehow survived to this day, long after all of our enemies have bitten the dust. On the other hand, I don't think that my photographic efforts are at all related to my ethnicity in either subject matter or technique, and would resist any effort to label them as such. When the local Jewish newspaper in Portland described architect Daniel Libeskind with pride as a "Jew Architect", I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry.

                                     PEDESTRIANS - FINAL VERSION

Its more as a New Yorker that I stake my claim, although as a New Yorker I'm pretty weird. The last time I really lived in New York I was seventeen years old; I have never lived in Manhattan. The only time I worked briefly in the city was a short summer as the worst secretary in New York City, for a theater ticket agency whose head was so obnoxious, even for New York, that most of my job consisted of standing on box office lines to obtain tickets to shows which had resolved to never deal with my boss again.

So I am a member of the vast New York Diaspora, and feel that my relationship to New York is conditional on that long distance relationship. The daily paper on my porch is the New York Times. When you read it religiously (!) every day, from three thousand miles away, you can begin to see how  "Jewish" it is, as well as how truly parochial. You notice all of the ads on the first two pages are for items that not only you can't afford, but that nobody you know can afford either. It's only when I read the Sunday Times online (I'm too cheap to pay to get it delivered) that I get to read the sections not delivered to Portland, like the real estate section, that I realize that while I grew up in New York, I am no longer a real New Yorker. The joke in my house is the question someone once asked when confronted by New York prices -"Is it the same currency?"

                                     GRID ON GRID - FINAL VERSION

My reactions to New York are thus based on my personal history, my ties to family and friends, and my continued affections. This is coupled with my reality of living so far away, and realizing that New York is for most a grand illusion. I will always be a New Yorker, and am glad I grew up there, even though I can't understand why most people stay. I even find it unimaginable how people who didn't grow up there can survive at all. I love it from afar, which causes some weird incongruities, like the fact that I was a "regular" at a wonderful little Italian restaurant down the block from my oldest friend in Park Slope, even though I visited only every six months or so when my wife and I  would visit New York. Or that my wife, when confronting my slow gait when staring at all of the skyscrapers, or my hesitancy in joining in the jaywalking, declares me "Corn Boy"!

So what do my photographs of New York reveal of these strange contradictions? After all, I've already related that one takes the best images of the places that one is most familiar with, so Portland, not New York, is in my wheel house. In no way am I a "New York photographer" - but I think my images say something about my special relationship.

STATUE OF LIBERTYSTATUE OF LIBERTY                                                       LADY LIBERTY - FINAL VERSION

I  think it manifest itself in three ways. One is how I react to the landmarks, which I have known all of my life. I need to come up with a different, unusual, or some might say even strange perspective in order to justify creating the image at all. Thus my take on the Statue of Liberty. Or the Empire State Building.

EMPIRE STATEEMPIRE STATE                                                                               EMPIRE STATE - FINAL VERSION

Or an old bridge in Brooklyn. BROOKLYN BRIDGEBROOKLYN BRIDGEBROOKLYN BRIDGE 1                                                                             BROOKLYN SILHOUETTE - FINAL VERSION

The second way is the things that I notice, as a New Yorker on an occasional visit. These details can show appreciation of things that are no longer part of my environment, but are now even more special.

WATERTOWERSWATERTOWERS                                                       WATER TOWERS - FINAL VERSION

ROOMSROOMS                                                                             ROOMS - FINAL VERSION

                                     BROWNSTONE DETAIL - FINAL VERSION

                                                                 CAST IRON - FINAL VERSION

                                     MASONRY DETAILS - FINAL VERSION

These details are the kinds of things that an architect from Portland - the land of wood - only remembers with fondness. Sometimes I carry my references to further limits - details that only a New Yorker might be expected to understand.

                                     GRAND CENTRAL - FINAL VERSION

LAW & ORDERLAW & ORDER                                      LAW AND ORDER - FINAL VERSION

                                     THE BID IS 7 NO TRUMP - FINAL VERSION

                                     PATIENCE - FINAL VERSION

My faraway attitude allows me to understand that it would be okay if non-natives did not get these references. Real New Yorker's would be appalled. Although if you ever watched Saturday Night Live, or Law and Order, ridden the subway, or knew what the Trump Tower looked like above the horrible name plate, or ever saw a New Yorker cartoon that had anything to do with libraries, you would probably understand.

The funny thing about living in Portland lately is the weird way that New Yorker's have embraced our city so much that I sometimes think that they think Portland is the sixth borough. Some cynics describe us as Brooklyn without Black people. Others realize that "Portlandia" really only represented the hipster condition that was plaguing all of America. Most visiting New Yorker's just can't get over no sales tax and the comparative rarity of the $30 entree on our menus - they've found urban nirvana! I only understood this new fascination when I started noticing a new byline in the Oregonian, back when there was an Oregonian. The name Sulzberger leaped off the page, and I soon learnt that Pops had sent the future publisher of the Times to the backwoods to learn the reporting side of the business. After all, the kid couldn't write for Dad's paper - that wouldn't be right. So know i began to see why that other paper I read every day was so fascinated with Portland - the cub reporter's efforts had led The Times to treat Portland as the only true representative of urban America beyond the Hudson. It got so bad that sometimes I couldn't tell which newspaper I was reading, like when I noticed an article decrying the layoff of fifteen workers at Powell's and realized it was The Times and not The Oregonian. Or when the food section - of the Times (!) - highlighted half a dozen restaurants within six blocks of my house, only 3,000 miles away from most of its readership.

Finally the third way this once and always New Yorker reacts to the city is just an all-knowing horror of the urban angst that I know I miss.

IF ONLYIF ONLY                                                                               IF ONLY - FINAL VERSION

I found this image looking out of my sister's old corner office above 51st Street off Broadway. It was something she saw every day, just part of her world. Her visiting brother saw that unique combination of order in chaos that could result from the simple decision to restrict automobiles from Times Square a few blocks South. New Yorker's can complain about things that most people wouldn't even notice, but they also listen to rules, as long as everybody else must suffer along. I doesn't hurt if you paint these rules in big letters on the street, with no explanation of the restriction. You see, New Yorker's attitudes towards life's vagaries veer quickly from astonishment to resignation to a triumphant "urban professionalism" - "What's wrong with you, don't you know what's what?" And of course the final stage of New Yorker's (and mine) "special relationship" with urbanity is my alternate title for this final image - "ONLY IN NEW YORK."



(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 12 Mar 2021 20:00:00 GMT
SILHOUETTES                             BLUE OAK - FINAL IMAGE

This week I'd like to devote a little time to the graphic impact of using silhouettes in your imagery  by investigating several of my images. I could have chosen several more because I frequently use this strategy, either by noticing it in the field, or by later manipulating exposure in post-processing.

Silhouette is defined as an image represented as a single color, usually black, set against a uniform background, usually white - what would be called a two-bit image in digital speak, just undifferentiated black and white. The only detail is the definition of the boundary. Originally silhouettes were simple portraits, whose contours could represent a subject without detail, and were first cut out of black paper. They traditionally differed from a line drawing of the contour of an object by focusing on it's mass, with no attention to it's inner makeup. As photography developed as an art form, the silhouette broadened in definition to any image that was backlit, with varying degrees of detail in the  parts of the subject in shadow. Also accommodation with the real world allowed for different colored backgrounds for silhouettes as well as white. The emphasis remained on the graphic description of a subject. Amateurs frequently encountered silhouettes due to messing up their exposures because they forgot the "rule" of making sure the sun was to their back; it was left to artists to decide they sometimes actually liked these mistakes.

This first image happened on a walk near Portland's Central Library. It's an example of "Portlandia" in that the subject is what we call a "Century Tree", cited and protected as an honored citizen because it's been here for at least one hundred years. That's not bad since the entire city was an old-growth forest when it was founded 172 years ago in 1849. So trees like this have been here since almost the beginning, and thus get a small plaque somewhere if you take the time to look. There are also "Century Farms" and loads of unacknowledged Century Houses like the one I'm sitting in, which is part of Portland's charm, in that a very young city has a large stock of houses older than ones found back East in older cities.

I was struck by the incredible intricacy of the Oak, characteristic of natural design and only simulated by something an artist would conceive because they feared it would seem too contrived. I also loved the characteristic Portland sky, blue and white, with maybe a bit more blue than usual. My exposure more or less deliberately concentrated on this sky, rendering the tree mostly without detail.

More or less? I didn't realize how correct, or incorrect my exposure actually was at the time. In order to get any detail in the tree, with the sun to my back, I have had to overexpose by four full stops to get this pretty pathetic rendering here. Yes, the tree has texture, and a lot of ivy that probably should be cleared, but who really cares? The image has lost everything that made it special.

Here I've converted it to monochrome, and as usual it is a matter of taste. There is still no detail in the tree, but without the color even more emphasis on the convoluted shapes, and you might convince yourself you can pick out the pesky ivy. It also seems obvious that you could replace the real sky with almost any color you wanted, depending on your placement on the realistic/graphic continuum.

                            THE THIRD MAN - FINAL VERSION

Another example of a silhouette shows that some detail in the subject is allowable, given the overall power of a recognizable shape. One evening my camera club was allowed to stay after closing at Oaks Park, an historic Portland amusement park. I discovered several things that night , including the fact that there are a few houses still there that have only the river and the park as their neighbors, making for a very quiet neighborhood, at least at night. My favorite scene was this view of the old Ferris wheel; the shape is so recognizable that it is immediatly decipherable, no matter how much detail is present or how much of the wheel I've left out. The small amount of detail left does not detract from the overall graphic image. I swear the sunset gold is reality, even though you might be forgiven if you thought this was a black and white image with a sepia tone.

                            VENICE SILHOUETTE - FINAL IMAGE

Here is another silhouette, whose weird color range and chromatic abberation - notice those weird outlines at the edges - can only be the fault of the camera operator. I have no idea where those colors came from, and realize the amount of noise is unconscionable, but I still like the image. It says more about Venice to me than most of my other images - this is my interpretation of the Doges Palace, which is featured on most visits to Venice, and it's very graphic quality appeals to my love of the mysterious.

I think we can all admit that the massively underexposed image, the final version, is vastly superior to the merely underexposed original. The murky details of the facade add nothing - it is just a reject, even though the square crop, already applied is a vast improvement on the real original!

Well I've no eliminated the colors, that weird orange/pink gradient; again a matter of taste. The chromatic aberration is gone of course in a black and white photo - it now seems to just be a little out of focus.r

                                     COASTAL SHADOWS - FINAL VERSION

Here we have a characteristic view of my wife, forging ahead on a coastal hike due to her husband's insatiable need to take yet another shot of Haystack Rock. Taking a "proper" exposure of the backlit scene renders her in silhouette. Of course only she, me, and maybe her son and a few of our friends know that is Fran, which makes it pretty useless as a portrait - but I've sold numerous copies of this image as an Oregon Coast poster, because that generic silhouette and its shadow can represent every visitor's walk on the coast. Any details would just destroy the illusion.

Would you like to purchase a bridge? This original is one of my attempts to take a "different" image of the Brooklyn Bridge, something we can all aspire to even if we know it's pretty impossible. Now the amount of detail in this image immediatly made me wonder how I can so consistently "blow" an exposure, and what might happen if I would use that to my advantage.

eNow I am lying here, because if you pay strict attention to the clouds you can see that this is somehow a different image, although it is really the same one. I've converted to black and white, and all detail in the silhouette is gone - but somehow the image seems very realistic, and now timeless, since it could have been taken on pretty much every day since 1883.

BROOKLYN BRIDGE 1                                                                BROOKLYN BRIDGE - FINAL VERSION

I have lightened the exposure to brighten the image and make it even more graphic while still not revealing any unwanted detail in the tower. Again, every New Yorker or anyone who has ever had the pleasure to walk across the bridge knows exactly what they are looking at.

Finally, I would like to propose the concept of the "reverse silhouette." Not a negative per se, but the placing of a light object against a dark background. This is very popular with portraits, and your new iPhone can even do it on its own in "portrait" mode. But it can even happen in landscapes.

                                      INTO THE WOODS - FINAL VERSION

My rendering of the St. Johns Bridge is yet another attempt to try something different, although how different is subject to interpretation. I am such a bad businessman that it took me three years before I put this image in my booth - I would just send customers to the colleague at the market who I thought had the best current version. Finally I gave in and sold 38 coasters in three weeks. It's different for only a few reasons, and not very important ones. Most photographers seem to  take the shot facing North against the sky, or include both towers. Young, intrepid, and foolish photographers achieve symmetry by standing in the middle lane, risking death from both directions by passing semis - I've been told you can certainly time it, but one lane was good enough for me. Finally, and don't hate me, I just don't like the beloved bridge's shade of green! So black and white it was, and is, and if you want a color shot, there are usually half a dozen other photographers at the Market who will be happy to help you. But it is not my stubbornness, no matter how legendary, that makes me love this image - it is the way that it shows that how well reverse silhouette, with lots of detail, can still pop out of a dark background. The documentary shot, with it's bridge green against the forest green, would lose all of the punch.

I would encourage all of you to give silhouettes a try as a way of creating unique images that your eyes and brain, with their ability to perceive far more tonal gradients than our sophisticated cameras, just do not see. Let your camera create those "bad" exposures.



(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 05 Mar 2021 20:00:00 GMT

Today I'd like to recount a hike I took in the Columbia River Gorge four years ago this summer using half a dozen or so photos that I took that day to recount the area's natural beauty, as distilled by one photographer. Some of these images are pretty characteristic of this particular hike; some are more related to my idiosyncratic style of landscape photography. I had a wonderful day, and came away with more "keepers" than usual. But the most important lesson I learned that day, or more accurately four days later, was to absolutely try to never take anything for granted.

My hike was not very heroic - just a couple of miles in and back on one of the Gorge's most famous trails which is hiked by tens of thousands each year. The Eagle Creek Trail actually extends for another twelve miles into the wilderness before it connects with even more trails in the back country. Punch Bowl Falls, where I stopped for lunch, is actually about the first landmark that wusses like me are allowed to turn back towards civilization while maintaining a modicum of respect with real hikers.

Yet no one has hiked this trail in four years, because four days after I enjoyed it a group of idiotic teenagers, playing with fireworks, managed to burn down thousands of acres of the Gorge while they were on this trail. Through the heroic efforts of firefighters and just plain dumb luck, the damage was barely held in check so that one can say it was a lot better than it could have been. But years later there are a number of beloved trails and whole areas of the Gorge that are still off limits.

Like most Gorge trails, Eagle Creek starts off with a pretty tame section just off the trail head, where I enjoyed the shade and the creek. It's less than an hour from my home in Portland, just off the highway. And it's usually ten degrees cooler on a hot Portland summer day, and my self employment allows me to go on a random Wednesday morning where I will encounter few other hikers.

And then the trail begins to climb and becomes famous. As Gorge trails go, the elevation gain is nothing to brag about, but the sense of exposure is palpable. While there is very little real danger, let's just say that you begin to concentrate. You are walking on a path cut into the cliff, with a drop that gets progressively deeper the farther you go up the trail. On the left someone, probably Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps, has provided a steel cable to hold onto; while it is often not "necessary", you really appreciate it when the path narrows and it suddenly becomes very reassuring. It's the kind of trail where you quickly resolve that any asshole who "needs" to pass you will do it on the outside, thank you very much.

This pair of women were a little ahead of me, and I had no desire to pass them on the trail. Eagle Creek reminds me of my family's trip across the country on the "Oregon Trail" in 1992. At our first stop in Badlands National Park, I watched my four-year old son casually jaunt across the parking lot to a viewpoint, no fence, nothing, and quickly held my breath, and his hand, when I saw an unprotected drop of hundreds of feet. We were not in Virginia anymore. The West relies on a more Darwinian recreational ethos.

In any case the views are breathtaking; here's a typical sun-dappled scene of the forest hundreds of feet below. It almost screams Oregon.

A short time later the woods again surrounded the trail and revealed the complexity of the fight for sunshine in the Gorge, where many trees are completely overtaken by the moss. I later realized that this scene was very near where the fire started, only one mile up the trail.

This is my image, "Eagle Creek Moss" after post-processing; raising the exposure, cropping for a coaster, and sharpening to ensure the perception of the beautiful moss detail. Manipulating the exposure also brought out the darker tree to separate it from the lighter background.

The Black and White version exhibits the usual monochromatic strength in emphasizing details even more, but in this case I do miss the overarching sense of Green.

The culmination of at least my hike was Punch Bowl Falls, about two miles in. I sat on a broad field of rocks surrounding the pool eating my sandwich, and taking many photographs - should I include the rocks, or narrow the view? Should I care more about the reflection, or the overall scene? After a dozen or so alternatives, I focused on this image, knowing that I would probably concentrate on the falls and reduce the trees beyond. All of this while ignoring the young man who insisted on jumping into the pool from the top of the falls, wondering if he expected to me to come to his aid if he cracked his neck.

Cropped to a square, emphasizing the falls and their reflection in the pool, but keeping the rocks in the foreground.

My usual post-processing brings out the "pop" through a more accurate white balance (the forest tends to the cool blue), subtle saturation, and darkening the foreground rocks a bit to further highlight the waterfall.

We lose the green against brown contrast in the monochrome version, but it allows for a darker pool and subtle darkening of the woods above the falls and the tree to the right; the rocks are even less distracting.

I also explored details around the pool (waterfalls aren't everything, you know) and came up with this intimate landscape near my lunch spot. A few days later a group of about thirty hikers near my lunch spot were forced to stay overnight in the middle of a forest fire, and then take the long way (twelve miles) around to get off the trail. The trail is still closed, and few know what these scenes now look like; we can only hope that we will soon be able to return.


(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 26 Feb 2021 20:00:00 GMT

Today I'd like to use several of my images to discuss the virtues of the intimate landscape. I use this term to describe a landscape photograph that highlights a very detailed view of the landscape. This view is not necessarily a macro view, nor is it abstract - it has a generally understood subject, is of a natural subject, but the landscape is so limited that the viewer can only sense a mood, or a time, or a season, while the geographic location is unknown or unimportant. The viewer knows what they are looking at, but has no idea where it is on Earth.

The intimate landscape requires an interesting subject in the sense that its elements are attractively framed and distributed in the image. In this it is like a still life, but the photographer has probably not changed the real scene, although moving a leaf or rock is not like removing a Soviet official  from the annual Red Square lineup. And post-processing now allows us to remove "distractions" from our captured images, so one must keep their own consciences intact when presenting "reality" as they saw it. Always remember of course that the mere act of "framing" is a personal  artistic decision, as is the exposure that can emphasize different aspects of the image. My view is that an intimate landscape should remain close enough to the truth because its real value is what it reveals about the photographer's ability to "see" order in what is frequently a chaotic natural world.

This image is a portrait of a small part of a wetland, also known as a swamp, at the Brietenbush Nature trail in the Columbia Gorge. Of course it could be anywhere in the world, unless you know more botany than I do. And if someone said, "I know where that is" they would either be me, lying, or a psychic. The colors and arrangement and the rain drops attracted me, and made me look and shoot. I subsequently made a framing decision to create a square photo coaster, added my usual subtle saturation, vibrance and sharpening modifications which are pretty reasonable to make a digital photo "pop." Most importantly I reduced the exposure and the shadows since I was not at all interested in seeing the tangled swamp bottom below the surface of the water. Beyond that, it was important to me, and probably no one else, to not cut off that bottom leaf. Way later I realized how much I liked that red branch i near the center.

Look what happens when I reduced the saturation of that branch (which Lightroom informed me was "orange" , just like the brown leaves). I feel the image suffers, but maybe it's just me.

And while I love black and white as much as the next guy (and probably more) I think we lose a little here, although I really like the deeper black water. I might even be tempted to go back to my final image and further reduce the shadows, but lets look at another image.

FALLEN LEAVES                                                        Fallen Gingko Leaves - Original Image

I noticed a pile of Gingko leaves before I even entered the Lan-Su Chinese Garden, one of my favorite spots in Portland. It's important in these intimate shots to try to avoid any borders of the pattern to try to convince the viewer that this scene goes on forever, or at least far longer than in real life. This is the result of my post-processing:

FALLEN LEAVES Now I've cropped to my coaster square, raised the contrast and the saturation high enough to highlight the different yellows and oranges that were present in real life, and sharpened enough to really see those drops and the distinctive shapes of the leaves. While some might think that I've gone too far, they wouldn't be those people who know Gingkos.

FALLEN LEAVES Another black and white that seems to be okay, but just okay. It pays to reason that when an image is really about color, it loses something when  the color is taken away.

Another day, another swamp.

My wife really seems to love wetlands, so I do what I can as we hike the boardwalks provided by the government, this time at the Nisqually Natinal Wildlife Refuge in Washington State. I was intrigued by the struggle the leaves were engaged in to overlap each other and grab some infrequent sun.

                           Fractal Pond - final image.

You can see here that my square crop went for as much water as I could find; then I increased contrast and saturation to highlight the leaves. The necessary sharpening actually bought out the fact that the leaves have almost concave edges that keep them afloat.

I am not really a green fan, but I will admit that something has been lost here. The shapes are still here, but there doesn't seem to be enough variation between the leaves to make up for the lack of color.

So I hope you can find some inspiration to look closer the next time you are out in nature, to try to see the intimate landscape within the overall view. It can really help you find more images  out in the world that will especially be your own, not those views duplicated in everyone's instagram feed.




(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 19 Feb 2021 20:00:00 GMT
IT'S THE LATEST, IT'S THE GREATEST, IT'S THE LIBRARY CENTRAL LIBRARY 1 (SKYLIGHT)                                                         Central Library #1 Skylight: Final Version

Today I'd like to again discuss "working the subject", in this case returning to the same location to try to gain some additional insight into your take on the subject. It helps if the location is photogenic of course, and if there are many different parts of its appeal. And if there are other compelling reasons for you to venture there besides taking photographs, so much the better, because it's likely that you will continue to end up there again and again.

The last year has been a difficult one for most people, and in some ways I've been blessed. My family and I have been well, and the safety net, though frayed, has seen me through the loss of the three ways I used to try to earn a living. I'm not complaining in the least. But I realized in thinking about this essay today that one of the most important things I've missed this year is my trips to the library. These include my branch at Belmont, the other branches I visit in different neighborhoods around the city, and especially my explorations of Portland's Central Library Downtown.

In my humble opinion the idea of the library is one of the most important ideas man has ever come up with; the institution of the "free" library ranks right up there with the free press and freedom of religion. The library predates the printing press, which seems kind of backwards except that libraries collected scrolls and tablets before there were books. I love the library so much that I frequently contemplate how the "idea of the library" could transform the rest of society, even before we finally get replicators. The more I think about the idea of the free library, the more I realize how incredibly lucky we are that they were created before the Conservatives realized how they pointed the way towards an easier system of distributing knowledge than charging for it. I don't even mind paying library fines. blaming it on my own inability to get organized rather than "the man." In fact,  the library system is about the only survivor each year at that one time of year I allow myself to turn Republican for a moment, when I open my property tax statement and try to understand what I'm paying for this year. The library is obviously not "free", but the amount I pay in taxes is an incredible bargain. As with the park system, if you don't take advantage of the library, well thanks for paying so I can use it.

The Multnomah County Library system is one of the best used libraries in the nation, always competing with Seattle (it's the weather) and New York and Washington, D.C. (college graduates) each year for library devotion. Our system has two great strengths. One is a lot of branches in a lot of neighborhoods, being almost as ubiquitous as post offices, fire stations, or Portland's specialty in neighborhood organization, primary schools.The other is the renewal system, which allows you to keep as many books as you want in your own home, as long as nobody else wants them, and you can get your act together to renew them every three weeks before the system "breaks down" and you have to pay  a quarter a day for each of the thirty books that are spread around your house. Think how brilliant this system is - I would suggest that there would have to be twice as many library buildings if we all didn't store all those books in our own homes.

The crown jewel of the system is the Central Library Downtown. The current version of the Library was built in 1911, the same year as my modest bungalow 47 blocks away. It is a giant brick pile, five stories tall, with basements of course, that takes up an entire city block. It was designed by one of the best architects in Portland's short history, A.E.Doyle, whose name you can still touch on the pedestal at the end of the right side of the entrance stair. It's style is what you might call Federal, more than one hundred years after Jefferson quoted Palladian ideas at Monticello from the fancy Classical architecture he saw in France. But in general, the idea is brick with a smattering of stone,  and lots of large windows, although they are certainly punched in the brick, not replacing it. And in lieu of actual sculpture, you get lots of carvings; the benches around the exterior give you a curated 1911 version of great authors, and of course a certain art deserves pride of place at the corner of the subject frieze shown in the detail above. You don't see Accounting or Advertising or Business Administration up there, do you? Respect must be paid!

This building was completely restored a few years after I arrived in Portland. This restoration revealed the big difference between Portland and Seattle. Seattle is the younger and now richer city, and when it needs to renew its institutions, it looks at the crap it contains and just tears it down and builds 21st Century monuments. Portland realizes that its higher quality architecture probably is better than what it can afford to build now and pays for restoration - notably the Library and City Hall, among others. It is interesting that Seattle's new main library is almost exactly the same size as ours, but resembles a glass spaceship that badly landed in Downtown. And I like it! Seattle "reinvents" the library while we spend millions to get back the one we always loved. When I showed up in Portland, a trip to the building involved jury-rigged interior scaffolding that was going to "protect" me in the event of an earthquake. When the building was evacuated for remodeling I was one of the hundreds who attended the auction of the old furnishings. I scored one of the library newspaper poles used to display today's paper, which still stands in my office today - its sister is in a local coffee house on Hawthorne. My son was really disappointed when I dropped out of the bidding on one of the return book carts after it passed the $100 mark.

CENTRAL LIBRARY 2 (STAIR) Circulating through the Library involves a pilgrimage worthy of a palace of books. This is an interlude on the main stair about when you realize that there is a mezzanine between the second and third floor, and that each floor itself is really a double-height space. While the interiors are plush, let's get real - that column is not marble, but sfagrito, an Italian painting technique to simulate stone. But the spaces are grand, so much so that my lack of a wide angle lens as usual leads me to concentrate on details.

Here you can get some appreciation for the size of the six reading rooms - you don't need to dust the top of those bookcases, which are clearly a good dozen feet below those monumental light fixtures. As you move through the building, other details stand out.

This is one of the columns in the Second floor lobby, before you confront the next stair. They surround one of the 1% for Art additions, a massive chandelier.

When you finally descend the stair with your armful of books, you can appreciate other details, like this newel post, while equivocating on the Grandma carpeting.

And even though you promised not to disturb other patrons with your camera (Don't worry, just another architect!) you can occasionally grab some of the action.

Well let's talk photography. These photos, (and there are too many more to show) were taken over a period of ten years, mostly because I happened to have my camera with me. Which is not to say that I haven't made attempts to improve them, or that these were not the result of extra attention in shooting or post processing. For example, here are three repeats which I believe are much better as Black and Whites, both due to the real paint colors and the fact that the "real" color balance in these interiors, which is a lot more cool, usually looks wrong. This is overcome in monochrome.


I happen to like these renditions better. You lose the wood handrails, but the column looks more agreeably sterner, and the chandelier is rescued from a certain gaudiness in the color version. Now let's take a look at my favorite image, the skylight. This skylight dome is not that monumental.  It is at the top of the stairs at the third floor, where you literally get to choose between Art & Science, depending on the reading room you choose. The skylight is probably only 20-30 feet wide, and it looks smaller if you show the whole thing.

It covers the lobby that serves as the library's exhibition space, and if you look very closely in real life you will realize that it is at the bottom of a light shaft courtyard, with two more administrative floors surrounding the skylight above. Those are the4th and 5th floors on the elevator that you are not allowed to punch. Thus the frosted glass in the skylight. It also cuts down on the glare, which brings up exposure. Film or sensors, despite advances, will not allow for the dynamic range that our eyes can achieve, especially when you consider how our brains can "adjust" our perceptions way before we squint, turn away, or just accept that we can't look at the whole scene at once. The camera of course is not as smart, and we must make choices, because it does see everything at once.

CENTRAL LIBRARY 1 (SKYLIGHT) This is the color version. Yes that white surround is now on the way to a sickly grey. But even here I'm not accepting the reality of the exposure situation.

Whoa! This is "reality." That awful beige ceiling color is back. The dome is revealed as not much bigger than the reading room entrance beyond. And what are those lights surrounding our skylight? And why can't I barely look at the glass or the trim on the shaft? It is paper white, containing no detail, because the camera wanted to show us the ceiling, and it can't look at both places without losing detail in one.

Now I hope you can see why the final image is one of my personal favorites. I've shown only a portion of the skylight, which allows the viewer to imagine an enormous dome, way bigger than our modest skylight. I've  converted to black and white, removing both the hated beige and the sickly grey shaft. I have lowered the exposure a full two stops below "correct" because I couldn't care less if you see the ceiling at all - it's all about the skylight. You can now see the subject better than you can if you are actually on the third floor, because I have made my choice on whatI want to show you. Thanks for coming to visit, and I hope we can all go back to the library soon.


(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 12 Feb 2021 20:00:00 GMT

I'd like to discuss the topic of "working the scene." Photographers use this term in several different ways. Most of the time it refers to the admonition by experienced photographers to take some time to explore alternatives when  you encounter a subject that you initially find interesting. This could mean moving around for different framing possibilities, exploring alternative exposures beyond the "correct" one, changing apertures or shutter speeds, rotating for a vertical crop,or simply crouching or climbing to change the perspective. Since you're carrying  many expensive lenses in your camera bag, it could mean taking another one out. The overarching theme of all of these exercises is that your first take on the subject is probably not the most compelling one you can come up with, so don't go anywhere until you've exhausted the possibilities. Every photographer has a different capacity for this exercise before they move on to another subject entirely. This is most important in landscape photography, my specialty, (mostly urban landscapes) but it has its place in other photographic genres. You only take one portrait of a subject if you work at the DMV. Sports and nature shooters face the fact that you've got to shoot continuously to get the one shot you're looking for. But landscape photographers frequently drive themselves nuts looking for alternatives because so many other things are out of their control -  the time, the location , and the weather being the three toughest nuts to crack.

Now of course serious photographers, especially those who have convinced themselves (if not their spouses) that they're out to make some money, tend to consider themselves more responsible for everything. If it's not the right time of day, come back at the right time. If the light isn't the finest it could be, come back. Similarly, you've got to choose the best season. And of course the weather, which you can't control, must be dealt with. Pity the poor photographer who must deal with the fact that they have spent their first week in Paris, they are leaving tomorrow, and it's time to go to dinner. This is the reasoning behind one of my rules of photography - the best photos of an area are almost always taken by great photographers who live there. The rest of us almost don't stand a chance, because we are stuck with the current conditions - we can't easily go back. The converse of this rule is that each photographer best work is probably close to home. This is true even if you are not religious about "working the scene" because there will be subsequent visits even if you are not obsessed with the subject. Some of my best images have been "grab" shots - not because the building moved, or I was on a bus, or the light changed, but because my long-suffering wife "grabbed" me because it was time to move on. Even when I declare that as an architect I could be actually "sketching" the scene, she says that I should take that up with my next wife.

                            Another day, another take.

So let's open the discussion to allow for successive visits to the same subject, in a more or less obsessive desire to "get it right." You need to combine an attempt to learn something from your earlier visits with a desire to try something different. So it is with my various attempts over the years to come to grips with the remodel of one of the federal office buildings in Downtown Portland.

The Edith Green and Wendell Wyatt Federal Office Building (let's just agree on EGWW for now on, OK?) is named for two former Oregon members of Congress. The building, like a lot of modern Portland office buildings, takes up the whole of one of our miniature blocks Downtown. It was a grim concrete office building, so mediocre that I wouldn't remember what it looked like if you put a gun to my head. In the midst of the Great Recession, the poor federal workers who knew what it looked like won the lottery. As a "shovel-ready" project, the long-planned renovation was put to the head of the line; its parameters were then advanced so that it would be as extensive, transformative, and "green" as your federal money could buy. The result was truly extraordinary, and I think it was probably the best thing that came out of the Great recession in Oregon. The HVAC systems and the facades were brought up to 21st Century standards, and the building's roof acquired what is probably the biggest south-facing solar-array "hat" your likely to see to liven up the skyline. Since the building was still the same square block, with a new glass face, the most prominent aspect of the remodeled building became how to shade those new glass facades. The architects had a field day, and the three different shading systems ( you don't need one on the North facade) became the highlight of the design. The East and South facades were mostly under control, with external shades pretty standard for current office towers, although they make for a nice play of light and shadow and reflections.

                                                        Extensive, but pretty standard, on the South Facade.

But the West Facade of the building was special. Let's talk about Western facades; they are critical in the Pacific Northwest, where the sun seemingly doesn't behave like it does "Back East" - and woe be the person who doesn't understand this when choosing an apartment or a house. As compared to the East Coast, it is pretty hard to overheat a house with too much glass in Portland, except for the Western facade. I say this as one who has done this twice, and as my wife frequently says "and an architect, too". Our first apartment Downtown was west facing, with a pretty view of the West Hills; unfortunately, the shades were permanently down from 2 P.M. on in a vain attempt to control the heat and glare. I then bought what can only be described as an example of a "stupid house" in Southeast Portland. Now we love our house, and it's probably the only correct economic decision we've ever made. It is a beautiful 110-year old bungalow; we're only the fourth family ever to live there, and we're not going anywhere. Its so prototypical of Portland that its almost a cliche, but it is on the wrong side of the street. Our garden faces west, and on the rare days when you want to enjoy it, it is literally impossible to sit back there. I was used to a climate where typically the day warms up to early afternoon, and then cools off. This is not our pattern - the sun takes forever to go down, and the hottest part of the day is the six hours where a western garden bakes until the sun finally goes down at 9:00 P.M. And an architect will tell you that western light is the hardest to control because horizontal shades have almost no effect as the sun heads almost horizontal towards sunset. Yes, you can roof the whole thing, or put up vertical walls, or plant huge trees or bamboo, but that doesn't seem to be a good strategy in a 25 x 40 foot garden.

                            Even more abstract.

So I've shown you three version so the Western Facade, and you don't even know what the hell you are looking at. Am I obscure, or what? The Western facade sports five vertical sunshade arcs that run up and down the entire face of the tower, extending a dozen or so feet from the building. These arcs form a vertical trellis with irregular vertical lengths of aluminum fins. The structural supports that connect these arcs to the building look like they contain more steel than the building itself to prevent the wind from blowing them down. The result is a varigated swirl of  metal that covers the facade in an abstract pattern while allowing the office workers to see out, especially if they appreciate a forest of steel. The architects originally proposed this as a scaffolding for climbing vines to complete the green curtain, but I think they subsequently decided to restrict the greenery to the first four stories, because how the hell were you supposed to trim it further up?

                            A view from below at the entrance entitled "Vertigo."

This view might provide more understanding of the complexity of these arcs. Due to the recent "difficulties" at government buildings, you might not be allowed to linger any more at the front door to get this vertical view. You can see that this is not a simple exercise in metal, and that even four different views don't begin to cover the possibilities.

                                     Initial unprocessed view of original image.

You can see that my initial take probably tried to control the highlights, and lower the blues to reflect a more realistic color temperature. The result was certainly more "green" although upon reflection it doesn't appear any more "realistic." The "coaster" square-crop doesn't seem to change much, since it's just a smaller portion of the same indecipherable facade. What's also funny is that my attempt to "straighten" the right verticals leads to even more skewed verticals to the left.

A few years later I decided to move my angle so as to show more support structure and thus more arc and underlying skin. I also allowed the verticals to "blow out" to emphasize their brilliance as opposed to the same steel in shadow. Sunlight and shadow also play a role in changing what is really a uniform glass facade. This view has become my favorite over the years.

                           I titled this version "The Gates of Mordor." 

Here is an example of how raising the contrast to 11 can seem to convert an image to monochrome. Only upon closer inspection is the now navy blue of the windows revealed in the shadows. I admit that this is so abstract that the viewer only understands if they know the building. Which you do now, to some extent.



(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 05 Feb 2021 20:00:00 GMT
SCOTTISH SERENDIPITY                                     Holyrood - final image

I have been lucky enough to visit Edinburgh on two occasions, once as a college student, and then again more than thirty years later when my son was finishing up his turn at a semester abroad. On both trips we didn't get to the Highlands because it was snowing, and the days were already short enough without venturing further North. This past year our chief Covid disappointment was that my wife had to forego spending a month with me at an isolated cottage on the Isle of Skye for nearly a year isolated in our bungalow in Portland.

Edinburgh is an absolutely delightful city for anyone who is not from Glasgow. The sense of history is constant, far beyond the usual castles and churches and what not - what can one say about a city whose "New Town" neighborhood is from 1815? My first trip included delights such as walking the Royal Mile and having my pick of the nicest sweaters that I had ever seen that were literally piled on the pavement outside of the shops. I also discovered a "magic telephone" for the first and last time - I joined a cue a block long at a phone box which somehow allowed all of the backpackers present to take turns making long-distance calls overseas on Her Majesty's dime, or whatever. My girlfriend, now my wife, was suitably surprised at hearing my blubbering as well as the entreaties of the bloke from South Africa behind me to get on with it already.

                                                        "Slate and Stone" - a view of "Old Town" from the castle.

When we returned in 2008 the city was even more charming to me because the scale was almost exactly the same as Portland. In fact if you change the beltway interstate around Downtown Portland for the remnants of the Medieval wall around Edinburgh, you would find about the same boundary size around the two cities. We visited Edinburgh near the end of the year, so we could experience Hogmanay, a Scottish rite that seems to combine Christmas, New Years, and Mardi Gras in one spasm of urban debauchery. We also got to stay in an apartment in New Town across from a park, with fifteen foot-tall ceilings, that I told the anxious landlord "would do" for the 100 pounds a night. We had a wonderful week.

                                                        Downtown Edinburgh during Hogmanay. Don't stint on the drink.


One of the highlights of the week was a visit to Holyrood Palace, at the opposite end of the Royal Mile from the Castle, where out tour guide had uncorked his well-rehearsed tidbit that the dungeon had welcomed many traitors, including one John Paul Jones, as guests of His Majesty. Holyrood Palace is the Royal Residence when the Queen visits The North on the way to her favorite castle, Balmoral, in the Highlands. We joined a tour of the place available when the Queen is not around. I must say that the Palace was not terribly impressive, especially the interior, which seemed at least to this observer as dowdy if not run-down. I snapped a photo of a nice central courtyard, which could have been lifted from a college campus, especially an exclusive college campus.

But on the whole, I was unimpressed, and was taking a turn through yet another corridor, when I encountered an unsigned black door. I'm an architect as well as a photographer, and one of the unwritten rules of professional conduct is that until someone objects, you have the run of the place to "pursue your critical responsibilities." So I ventured to try the door, which seemed to be of the exterior variety, and rehearsed my surprise if an alarm greeted my insolence. I thought I might encounter another courtyard, a garden, or merely a car park. Imagine how I felt when I was suddenly alone outdoors here:

                                                       What have we here?

I had come upon the ruins of Holyrood Abbey, burned down by a religious mob in 1600 (I don't recall which sect was responsible). It was a strangely intact ruin, attached to the Place by that unmarked door, and while the roof and the windows were gone, I could stand under a porch and check out the place in the pouring rain. It's very hard to capture rain in a photograph unless that is your intention, but believe me it was coming down. As I moved around, I encountered what I considered this overall view:

                                                        First take

Of course I was impressed by the stonework, the remains of the window arch, and the tombs. I took a stroll and discovered that most were of Scottish Kings who ruled before the "invitation" to join England in the United Kingdom in 1707. But it was pouring, I was getting cold (my coat was checked), so I went back inside. Now, as a "professional" I can't believe that I didn't "work the subject" and these were the only two shots I took that day on my private excursion. I wish I had given the top of the arched window a little more room, but there you go.

I wish I could show you subsequent stages of post-processing, but having lost the "original" and thus lost the "history" of my editing (don't ask - just back-up, back-up, and then back-up again) I only have the first and last versions. This doesn't stop me from editing it again, or coming up with new versions, but it does prevent me from showing the process.

                                                       After some editing.

You can see that I increased the exposure to lighten up the mood and bring out some variation in the stonework. I also hopefully subtly increased the saturation a bit. This brought out the greens, especially the moss on the raised monument. I would point out that Edinburgh shares a climate with Portland - that green was there, and it was December 17th, after all. What you can't see in the shot is that I had to darken the sky a lot, since it was totally blown out. Since it was blown out, I didn't find any additional detail in said sky, but I at least gained some detail in the trees in the background. Sharpening helped a lot to bring out detail, especially in the stonework and the gravel in the foreground. Sharpening is very much to taste, although you can get better at it. The first thing you should learn, and most teachers forget, is that the first slider you should touch is the last one on Lightroom's sharpening panel - masking.  Press this slider, press the option key (alt on Windows, and why don't you have a Mac?) at the same time, and move the making slider to the right, successive areas of the photo will now go black, showing you what parts of the photo will not be sharpened, which allows you to concentrate on what you want to sharpen without fear of creating artifacts in those areas of more uniform color and uniformity, like the sky, where sharpening should be avoided. Then use that same option key trick when you move the amount slider which turns your photo's view to black and white. The lack of color makes it easier to see when you've gone too far, as does increasing the zoom to 100%, which can reveal artifact creation a lot sooner. As with diet, moderation is usually the best policy, although one must remember that every digital photograph requires some degree of sharpening because of the very nature of the digital process

I'd like to point out another thing photographers must avoid, especially when they significantly enlarge their photos. I've printed this image at sizes up 12" x 18", and it looks great at that size, if I say so myself. Especially since the native resolution of my 18 megapixel camera is in the 8" x 10" range. And I haven't even applied any up-sizing programs yet, so you can print bigger than you think. The trick again is to view your proposed enlargement at 100% on your monitor, because that is the level of detail or distortion that you will see in the final print at that size. If it is unacceptable, print smaller. On the other hand, as you get bigger, other faults appear. My customers always exclaim how colorful and sharp my photo coasters appear, because they forget that they are looking at 4" x 4" versions - 24" x 24" enlargements are a horse of a different color. And of course we are all guilty of "pixel peeping" to varying degrees, risking touching large prints with our noses while inspecting details when we can no longer recognize the subject of a print. It's another rule of Physics - perception of the whole for humans usually require a viewing distance at least equal to twice the diagonal dimension of a print. Remember when your mother told you to move away from the TV - she told you it was because of radiation, but it really was proper viewing distance. If I got a larger TV, I would have get a bigger house. I have printed one photo as 4 foot square tapestry (don't ask) and it looked beautiful, but only from 40 feet away, which makes exhibition in an 8' x 8' booth problematic at best. I finally achieved the billboard effect, where a billboard photo appears indecipherable if you get close enough to apply graffiti.

Another problem that can appear at larger enlargements is "chromatic aberration", where strange color lines appear at the borders of sharp changes of color in a photo. Your ridiculously expensive lens is supposed to eliminate these, and it usually does, but then physics asserts its primacy once again. At 4" x 6" OK; not so much at 12" x 18". This is only important if you've spent good money buying or printing the image without examination beforehand.

Now this is at 100%, so i am being picky - but not if I am printing this big. Notice those ridiculous purple and green outlines at the window edges? You've just spent $200 for a metal print and I daresay you would not be amused.

Manually corrected chromatic abberation has removed the purple lines. But what about those green lines?

Ok, we've finally done it. Remember, at less than 1:1 at larger than 8 x10, you wouldn't have seen these at all. But don't you feel better?

This image has always been popular with my public. While it has not sold that often (it's hard to sell non-Portland or at least non-Oregon at Saturday Market) it is one of those images that does attract notice in my booth. And this is beyond the customers who wonder where they can visit this "local" site. While many people have been to Edinburgh, and some to the palace, I have only met one other person who has been in the ruined abbey - so my unsigned door might not have been in my imagination after all. Most viewers think the image positively oozes romanticism, but I admit I went into rare salesman mode when a customer inquired whether I thought the image would be appropriate in a funeral chapel. "Of course" it would, and then personally delivered a large framed print to the mortuary.

Finally, the black and white version, hot off the presses. We lose the green of course, but as usual monochrome emphasizes the forms, light and shadow, and especially the textures of the stone and the loose gravel floor.

So the next time you encounter a mysterious door, it might pay to see if it is locked. How are you supposed to know if there is a photo on the other side if you don't give it a try?

                                                        Holyrood: Final version






(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 29 Jan 2021 20:00:00 GMT

I would like to discuss what I call photographic luck, which is embodied in an image which is clearly influenced by a conjunction of circumstances that include a large quotient of "luck" surrounding its capture. Every photographer has taken some images that to one degree or another has seemed "lucky", which usually include both outside events and their grace in humbly conceding that they took advantage of those events to capture a compelling image. These "events" can include anything from a pedestrian entering a shot at just the right time, to an animal making any appearance at all, to the clouds suddenly parting over a landscape, to the briefest smile on your toddler's face. The photographer then has to take advantage of the "lucky break", as well as learn how to increase their "luck" by planning to duplicate it in the future.

Photographers have wrestled with this concept for a long time, because most photographs are not created out of whole cloth, subject only to the whims and control of the photographer in the studio. They have reacted to luck in many ways. These range from the humble, and fatalistic, mantra of "F8 and be there" - ie., just show up ready for anything, to those photographers who try to pre-plan everything, now equipped with apps that will tell them when and where the moon will show up over Stonehenge, just like the Druid priests of old. And the same photographer will both acknowledge their "luck", while proclaiming their ceaseless attempts to "make their own luck". in explaining the "lucky shot", they will resist some of the public's belief that every shot is lucky, while flatly stating that they caught that serendipitous moment simply because they had been taking photographs "before you were born". The truth is obviously somewhere in between.

Now let's get to talking about a certain mountain of my acquaintance. I captured this particular moment on a flight back to Portland eleven years ago, and it has been one of my most popular images ever since. "Coming Home" came to be for a number of reasons. As usual, my wife and I made seat reservations with the hope of securing an empty middle seat on our cross-country flight. As we assumed our positions, and hoped against hope that they would close the cabin doors already, I noticed that the window next to my wife was the cleanest, clearest, positively virginal airplane window I had ever seen. I reached up to the overhead, grabbed my camera, and successfully entreated with her to take the aisle seat instead. I had visions of mighty rivers, skylines, deserts and other assorted topographic phenomena filling my image ncard all the way home to Portland. 

In the years since I have done my personal reconnaissance on every flight, and have found that most planes seem to have one or two "newer" windows; obviously it's the luck of the draw. All you can do is reserve a window seat, not over the wing, and on the "right" side of the aircraft, depending on your photographic target. Inevitably your window will be as cloudy, foggy , and scratched up as usual. A few years after this flight I spied another great window which would soon overlook our mountains to the north, revealing a sister shot to my own, but it was across the plane and three rows up - and if I had gotten up, and announced that my fellow passengers must move aside because I was a "professional", we would have diverted back to Portland and I would soon be a "professional" in the hoosegow.

So I had my camera at the ready, I had my telephoto zoom lens on (the only one I own), and over the next five hours I waited. I knew that my lens hood would cut off a certain amount of glare, and that I would have to try to not touch anything, especially the window. Despite years of Kung Fu training, I could not levitate, but I could try to avoid the plane's vibrations as much as possible -don't touch that window!

      OK, you are in a plane, these are nice clouds, but so what?

 This was about as good as it got all the way across the continent. The seat-back map just showed me what I was not seeing while we traversed the country. What a bust. I could claim that I was at the ready the whole trip, but my frustration gradually led me back to pretzels and my novel. I gradually gave up, and then the captain announced we would soon be beginning our landing approach. Then the skies parted, the music came up, and I tried to control my excitement.

                                     Initial vertical attempt.

I tried my usual vertical orientation, figuring that this would more easily avoid the window edge. I quickly realized that this shot required the landscape orientation, and that my zoom lens could avoid the window edges without too much trouble.

      Initial horizontal.

Well OK, but I've got to get rid of that wing. We can't have people knowing we we on a plane, can we? So I proceeded to snap about another dozen frames as the plane moved towards Portland. I of course remembered taking a lot more images than I actually did over the next minute or so. Part of the problem was that it actually was a pretty bad day down there, so as we went along we were headed towards the clouds, and I gradually lost the mountain to the cloudy horizon. But I did get rid of the wing.

COMING HOME (MT. HOOD) When I got home I surveyed my shots and found only one or two had been successful; it was only then that I realized that I had captured three mountains, since I had been so focused on Mt. Hood. Hopefully the pilot was about five miles away from the peak, which meant that Mt. Jefferson was sixty miles away, and that the Three Sisters were another sixty miles beyond, just peaking above the clouds. 125 miles in one photograph, and I soon made some changes in post production to deal with the problems that I discovered through research that affected most aerial photography. This image predates the "de-haze" slider in Lightroom (I'm too old-school to subscribe, so Lightroom 5 suffices) but I used the dual strategy of brightening the exposure and subtly increasing the saturation to achieve the same ends.

COMING HOME (MT. HOOD) Fortunately the mountains are part of a range, so that the square crop required for my photo coasters still managed to keep all three mountains, just osing a little foreground and Mt. Hood's flanks. Over time, and familiarity, I gradually grew more accustomed to the square crop, and have sold about 449 coasters of this image in the last ten years, as well as many square-crop posters.

COMING HOME (MT. HOOD) B&W I also tried to evoke Ansel Adams with this monochrome version. I like the way it treats Mt. Hood, but I do admit that the other mountains suffer in contrast without the blue skies above the clouds.

COMING HOME (MT. HOOD) Over those same years I have "lost" several metal prints to my own clumsiness. The only way to really damage a metal print is to drop it on concrete, and have discovered unbelievable ways to drop this print and others while at the market. Recent debacles include an heroic sneeze, as well as hitting my head on a table while getting up from below said table. I try to save such metal prints by suffering jibes from my printer while he nobly tries to crop the damage away. This 16:9 crop, the old Hasselblad Xpan panoramic camera ratio, is about as far as you can go before you lose too much foreground or heaven forbid, lost the the upper peaks. A 1:2 crop, which is what I usually use for my panoramic images, is just a little too wide.

This image has always been popular. It is one of the "billboards" in my booth, drawing in appreciative crowds, despite the ubiquity of Mt. Hood images in the ether. But I have discovered that it actually sells less than you would think, especially in heroic sizes. The only people who feel absolutely "compelled" to buy fall into two camps - those who have actually stood on the summit, and those residents who are about to leave town forever. These market segments are actually smaller than you might think; it doesn't help that most Portlanders are actually not used to this view of the mountain, since we see it from the West. I've had people actually argue with me, and it is constantly amusing to hear men mansplain to pretty young companions about the identities of these peaks that betray their ignorance of basic compass directions. The only thing scarier is to hear guys point out their climbing routes, since climbing the North slope shown here requires actually risking their lives. The wildest story I've heard was from the couple who bought my image in the late afternoon because they had climbed down from the summit of Mt. Hood that morning! And to think that some people think I don't meet the needs of my public.


Last thing - I would like to recommend a photo book very relevant to this post. Julieanne Kost, a long-time Photoshop guru and part of the software's development team, has written what I feel is one of the best essays on photographic creativity I have ever read. It is entitled "Window Seat - The Art of Digital Photography and Creative Thinking". In it Ms. Kost, who has accumulated far too many air miles, exhibits her many window seat photos and more importantly discusses the pursuit of photographic projects in general.





(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 22 Jan 2021 20:00:00 GMT

Today I would like to discuss what I call the "graphic" image. I do not mean images that are NSFW (not safe for work). I would describe a graphic image as one that is so direct in its content as to easily allow multiple interpretations without changing the essential meaning of the image. These interpretations are thus a matter of aesthetics, and while you or I might like one or another better, there is no "right" answer, and a lot of freedom to experiment before one goes off the deep end. Graphic doesn't necessarily mean "minimal", another category which is similar; but graphic images do not require the level of simplicity (or if we are being critical, meaninglessness) that a lot of minimal images exhibit. And I am a fan of minimal images! I think you know a graphic image when you see one because you instantly see how easily it could be manipulated without actually changing it.

This image is one of the most taken and iconic images in Portland. I hesitate to estimate how many exist. I myself have taken this shot, or something very similar so many times that in contrast to most of my photographic zen moments, I remember this shot as more of a concept than an actual photographic event in my life. In fact I have told so many of my customers at Saturday Market where to stand to take this exact shot, or had to wait while loading my car so somebody else could take the shot, that these instances have further clouded my memory of actually creating this photograph.

This image of the "Portland Sign" is now an historic image, in that this shows the sign in one of it previous incarnations. I took the photo in 2010, about a week before the sign was changed. The sign, probably one of Portland's first experiments with a big neon sign, was originally made for Domino Sugar, and somehow the outline of the state was periodically "filled" with neon sugar to amuse Model T owners on their way over the Burnside Bridge. The sign then passed to the White Stag clothing company, which removed the sugar and added the prancing deer to stake their claim. After the Second World War ownership of the old warehouse under the sign passed to Bill Naito, recently returned from internment camps for Japaneses citizens and subsequent volunteer service in the US Army in Italy. One of the Naito family's entrepreneurial efforts became a chain of retail stores that sold products "Made in Oregon". To promote the store, and Old Town, where he had purchased many run-down buildings, saving an entire neighborhood from continued demolition, he changed the sign again. By the way, any time you see a gold-lettered building in Old Town, it was one of Mr. Naito's; there are a lot of them.                             Original Color

By the time I took this image, the sign had become so iconic that most people had forgotten its commercial origins, and considered it a state symbol rather than a private billboard. It had become something that just "was", like the "Citgo" sign that most baseball fans know as a symbol of Boston and Fenway Park, even if they have no idea that Citgo is an oil company. The "Made in Oregon" became so beloved that I don't remember how many prints I have sold that were destined for nurseries of proud Portland parents. I do remember how many times young ladies would suddenly show me their tattoos of the sign on body parts I normally wouldn't have been allowed to view. When Mr. Naito died, the University of Oregon did a very nice job in reviving  the old warehouse as the new location for its architecture school's semester program in Portland. Then talk began on what to do with the sign. When the university broached the notion that "University of" might replace "Made in", suddenly people began to pay attention. And it was not just Oregon State alumni. Most Portlanders asserted their ownership, despite the fact that the real ownership, maintenance, electric bills, and whether the sign was actually part of the building below seemed to be lost to History. In the end, the reasonable compromise that replaced "Made in" with "Portland" was agreed upon; I don't remember how the legal issues were resolved, although it is obvious that Portland, rather than Oregon was the big winner. The State kept its outline, and the deer still romps above Old Town.

Now let's talk about my image. As usual, I go a little tighter than most, looking for some pop. I ignore, or am not cognizant, that I have cut off some of the sign. It was a nice day, with a bit of blue sky surrounding the usual clouds. The sign's painted colors are recognized even though the neon is not yet turned on. And yes, the sign is on a jaunty angle, but that is more due to my location five stories below than any artistic strategies on my part. I did choose the framing, the time of day, and managed to hold the camera still, but I dare say that this is just a nice snapshot. And it isn't even the only one available as a photo coaster, although in that category I feel it reigns supreme.

The monochrome version is a different animal. The level of abstraction is now paramount, even though it is the same picture. By removing the color, I have now emphasized the sign as a steel structure; the framework is now more important. Of course the power of print recognition in our brains make sure that the lettering is still easily recognizeable, especially due to the contrast with the lighter clouds in the background. I think I could argue that the lettering is actually clearer in the black and white version. This image is not just de-saturated; I worked pretty hard to make that blue sky as black as possible, which the conventions of monochrome allow even though we "know" that the sky is not black. I won't show you the many different monochrome versions possible with just a few moves of the Lightroom sliders; this is just the one that I chose ten years ago.

Let's look at several other versions of the sign I've made over the years:

                            Finally some neon!

A few years later I finally got around to taking the sign at night with my cell phone while I packed my car after Market. I was even closer, on the street instead of in the park. I converted again to black and white, since I felt all of the colors just confused the issue. I moved the exposure all the way to the left, rendering everything but the neon as completely black, since I wasn't at all interested in the warehouse and especially the obnoxious "To Let" sign that is covering the upper left portion of the left industrial window. The red nose that I brought back from the original color version and then saturated, is another part of the sign's tradition, since in December the deer magically becomes Rudolph for Christmas.

                            As part of the "Icons of Portland" series.

Recently I tried experiments with using gold leaf to try to create "individual" prints to sell my images as "one of a kind". This is a common dream among photographers, who search for an answer to the question "is this an original?" No it is a photograph! My usual answer to customers is that if they add three zeroes to the price I will eliminate my ability to make further copies; no one has taken me up on the offer. In any case, I have ended up just using layers in  my computer program to add the "gold leaf".

                           Note the power of lettering - again unlit, and now backwards, but still recognizable!

RUDOLPH IN THE RAIN                             A rainy Xmas a few years before.

A few years before I took this image on a nasty December evening, as I shivered on the Eastern end of the Burnside Bridge. I actually think this the best place to take the sign, at least pre-drone. It illustrates that focus and camera shake cannot ruin an image, as long as you "get the shot". On the other hand, I am now too smart to be out in the rain, by myself, on a cold December night, despite the attractions of a color balance that is clearly not of this world. I leave this kind of image now to the young guns.

                            Current version, at a different jaunty angle.

At some point my status as the worst businessman in Portland was finally overcome and I took another goodbye shot of the current version of the sign for visitors that didn't believe me when I said that my usual image must be of a different sign. I took this at "blue hour", the theoretically "best" time to take urban landscapes, since the city's lights have come on but the sky is not completely black. This shot is actually harder than you think, because the sign goes through a series of different colors and flashing states, so that for me this is an "action shot".

                            The monochrome "original".

So there you have it. A final word on the need to try to take an original version of a subject that is so iconic that it resists interpretation. It is worth a try, since its yours. And if somebody says that it is illegal to take an image of a public sign that is literally ubiquitous, that is somehow beyond the bounds of a photographer celebrating his city, well tell them you'll see them in court. I live in a city that actually "signs" its skyline, so that it is actually hard to try to take a photo of Downtown without actually including the sign. To say that it this shot is somehow out of bounds is actually begging for a Supreme Court case. "If it please the court..."

(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 15 Jan 2021 20:00:00 GMT
THE SUBJECT OF A PHOTOGRAPH IS ... THE PHOTOGRAPH MULTNOMAH FALLS: FINAL IMAGE                                                                            " MULTNOMAH FALLS" - FINAL IMAGE

I'd like to discuss a massive conundrum in what we might call "the reason" of photography. Since it's creation, there has been a debate among photographers (and only much later, others) about what the heck we are up to when we practice photography. The basic distinction has been between documentation and art, or how much "truth" is being revealed in a photograph. Is the photographer merely a pusher of a button of a machine he/she barely understands, or is the photograph an image which is the creation of the maker, interpreting reality in their image, regardless of the actual subject?

Now we can get as heavy or simplistic as we want, but the basic theory of photography as an art is subtractive, in that the artist does not start with a clean slate, or a blank canvas. I am viewing the real world, and mostly deciding what I want to leave out of a photograph; the actual scene is almost always too confusing or at least unfocused, so I must try to simplify reality to direct the viewer's attention to the subject at hand. The beginner doesn't deal with this, usually only attempting to document that they were somewhere and took a picture - the selfie is just a less sophisticated version, proving they were there by putting themselves in the frame, making their presence explicit. Once a photographer realizes that they are capable of taking an image which is focused and well exposed, they then face the beginnings of the artistic dilemma - how and why is my image any different? And pray tell, as the image becomes more interpretive, at what point does it become so unattached to reality that it ceases to be about something that was photographed?

There are obviously different "rules" dependent on the individual photographer, and what they are communicating to the prospective viewer. These range from photojournalists, who are selling the "truth", and who rightly are worried about anything that might call the image into question - even if what they might do is routinely done to every other photograph ever taken. Cropping is a slippery slope towards eliminating the out of favor Commissar from the annual Red Square lineup; even exposure decisions can be "too interpretive".  I've even talked to photojournalists who couldn't convert their photo to black and white from the original color because it "sent a message."

Some few photographs are additive - a still life is assembled by the photographer, and a product shot attempts to present as clear and beautiful a rendering of a widget as possible. Other genres are combinations - fashion images are selling clothes while trying to convince viewers that they will appear as absolutely stylish as the model 8" taller and 50 pounds lighter in that same frock. It is only recently that we've started to admit that even the most beautiful women in the world are routinely "retouched" so as to be worthy of our gaze.

Where does this leave the landscape photographer, who is trying to interpret a part of the real world for viewers who have never been there, or more frequently for people who have fond memories of having seen the same thing "in real life". Each person must make their own rules, or at least not try to obfuscate how far they have left the reality of what they saw behind. Everyone "frames" an image, leaving things outside the frame that will contradict, or at least not contribute to the image. Most people will manipulate the exposure to some extent beyond the "proper" exposure, especially since the machine is trying it's best to render the scene as 18% gray, which is why snow is often different shades of dirty white, even outside New York. With the advent of digital post-processing, photographers can now eliminate "distractions" along with dust spots - but they always could "dodge and burn" in the darkroom to emphasize whatever part of the image was important to them. Even replacing whole skies - substituting a dramatic sky for Portland partly cloudy - was anticipated in the black and white darkroom, and often didn't even register to most viewers. The skies in the original "glory shots" of the American West were so gloriously white because the photographic chemistry of the day was very deficient in rendering blue. When Ansel Adams interpreted the same scenes, somehow the sky became increasingly black - it wasn't bad exposure, but it was dramatic, and it became such a convention that it finally didn't look "wrong."                                                                  "MULTNOMAH FALLS" : A VERTICAL ALTERNATIVE

My modest rendering of Multnomah Falls is now in almost 500 homes around the world, mostly as a 4" x 4" photo coaster under someones drink. Why is it mine? Well I took it on one of the many trips I've taken out there, accompanied by family and friends and several thousand other people that day. Anyone with a camera has taken something like it, but I'd like to think that my particular interpretation strikes a chord somewhere. MULTNOMAH FALLS: I FOUND THE COLOR ORIGINAL AFTER ALLMULTNOMAH FALLS: I FOUND THE COLOR ORIGINAL AFTER ALL                                     "MULTNOMAH FALLS" - I FINALLY FOUND THE ORIGINAL COLOR FILE - DON'T TELL ANYONE!

It is timeless. There are people present to provide some scale, but no one is recognizable, even to themselves. The alledged subject is Multnomah Falls, but since I've left out most of the waterfall, the tallest in Oregon, you could speculate that I'm relying on viewer's memories to fill in the "truth" they actually saw on the scene. Or has the subject become the man-made intervention, the wonderful bridge that crosses the falls at the intermediate pool?  As usual, at least for me, I've concentrated on a small sliver of the scene, rather than the entire panoramic view, which in this case would be a vertical panorama. I actually like vertical panoramas, very Japanese screen-like, but I chose not to go that route this time, for several reasons.The most basic is that everyone does it who can, thus making my potential shot even more identical to every other one in history. I mean, that waterfall is way tall.             I took a portrait of my old friend who was visiting and most certainly taking the same image of the falls - but just a little different. Another Multnomah Falls portrait taken that day - but processed so that a young couple, my son and his wife, appear as "Ma and Pa" passing a landmark on the Oregon Trail.

The other problem, besides sheer boredom, is that the wide angle view almost always diminishes the awe one feels in a breath-taking landscape. In the attempt to "take it all in", the actual subject of the shot, what caused the "wow" in the first place, is so reduced in size that the photographer is unavoidably disappointed, even if the viewer doesn't know what they are missing. In my view at least the viewer is now looking at the bridge, which they might have even stood on (it's only about a ten minute hike), but they can appreciate the scale of the bridge, and "remember" the rest of the scene without seeing it. And if you don't think that bridge is important, google an historic image of Multnomah Falls before the bridge was built, and you will understand. Oh, by the way, I don't own a wide angle lens, so I can't take the usual image anyway, but one of the reasons I don't own such a lens is that I know my view of the world isn't oriented in that direction.

The image is square, like the vast majority of my images, mostly because I make photo coasters. God declared that coasters must be squares (or God forbid, circles) so the square crop became required, even though I can claim that I actually liked it before I made my first coaster. Some photographers even suppose that I am a long-time Hasselblad user, a Swedish medium-format square frame camera that was responsible for the views of Tranquility Base on the Moon. I only wish this was true, but a digital version costs more than all of the cars I've ever owned, combined. And if you are going to take a partial view of a very tall subject like a waterfall, it probably helps to make it square, rather than just a vertical that comes up short.                                                                           The Coaster Lives! And I sold a metal print of it yesterday!

Finally, my image is in black and white because I liked it better that way. The bridge was getting lost in all of the green. I could realistically manipulate some of the tones to balance out the image, which usually fails in color but is more than acceptable in monochrome. The image is now more abstract by removing the color, further from a snapshot, and now a more acceptable purchase, because the customer doesn't have one like that. And I can even maintain a certain artistic arrogance by not having a version in color, even though you wanted one. Of course my customers don't know that some idiot (me) lost the original color file, so the obtuse businessman they are dealing with couldn't even satisfy them if I wanted to. I JUST FOUND IT! A year later I went back to the falls and somehow managed to stitch together three photographs for a twice-normal wide angle view - and still concentrate on the bridge! You can't keep an architect from contemplating the built environment, even in the midst of such natural beauty.

But the dirtiest little secret of this entire affair is that of course the reason this image is around the world is because of it's subject. Just because photographers want people to buy their images as artistic creations doesn't mean they aren't drawn to a certain subject. My Multnomah Falls might be better or worse than your Multnomah Falls, but they are still both about a beautiful waterfall. As Scott Kelby says, if you want to take more interesting photographs, make sure to stand in front of more interesting subjects. Only then can you interpret the scene that might be worthy of your efforts, and possibly of interest to someone else. See you at the falls.


(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 08 Jan 2021 20:00:00 GMT
FIRST TRY I have finally decided to bite the bullet and try my hand at blogging this year. I'm interested in providing more content for my website beyond a portfolio and a store, and after a year of pandemic and the closing of Saturday Market, I'm trying to provide a way for visitors to virtually visit my booth and talk to the artist. I have always resisted the idea that only I could sell or explain my art, rather than letting it work by itself, but I have come to realize that people love to understand an artist's motivations and process beyond the silly artist statement.

I will use this blog to try to discuss a particular image, it's origins and the route to the final print. I hope the viewer can gain some insight into my motivations, techniques and artistic struggles by delving into the development of an image. I'm not an earth-shattering artist, but I have been taking photographs longer than most of my viewers have been alive, and I have been crazy enough to exhibit and try to sell them for more than a decade. I have sold images to people who have brought them back to homes in all fifty states and 58 different countries around the world, so I feel that a lot of people see their value and might want to learn more about my photography.

I am a self-taught photographer, constantly aware that I probably could and should improve, and also realizing that photography is both an easy and difficult form of art. Everyone is a photographer, but photography is very hard, especially as you improve and realize how hard it really is. Like most things in life, it takes awhile to understand that the process, the journey, is a lot more important than the final product. I enjoy taking photographs and working on images and I hope that comes through in my writing.

This image has always been very popular; it is also interesting in how it changes focus when it gets enlarged. In addition, it is something that is easily duplicated by other photographers if they so desire, and in fact it is part of what might even be considered a genre - the raindrop photo. Mine is not extraordinary, but it is mine, and has given lots of people lots of pleasure. That's all one can hope for. AFTER THE RAINAFTER THE RAINAFTER THE RAIN The image is titled "After the Rain"; it was taken on March 6, 2012 during a walk in Downtown Portland. What the hell is it? An artistic hint - if you can get someone to show even that much interest, you are half-way there. The only problem is to keep them interested in an abstraction, which most people do not appreciate, when you reveal what the image really is. And if you don't reveal the subject, it better be damn good to make up for your arrogance - we are photographers, not magicians.

The image is a photograph of a pattern of raindrops on a new type of bus shelter on the Transit Mall. These new shelters intrigued me as a citizen and designer, in that I had finally lived in Portland long enough to see a renovation of the original structures. As they were brand new, I was confronted by q virginal example, which had not been subject to graffiti of any kind. Although I must say that Tri-Met's anti-graffiti efforts, which involve artistic etchings into the glass to hide the original tag, have attracted admiration from transit agencies around the world.

The rain drops are not streaked because they were on a horizontal surface, the skylight of the shelter. Of course the viewer doesn't know that, and relies on the primitive parts of their brain to surmise that the black shapes must be trees on the Mall in the distance. A big part of the fascination effect (the "wow") is that we usually don't view rain in this way. I've frozen something in time, allowing for an inspection process that is not part of our ordinary world.

This wasn't that hard. It's just slowing down and observing, which is something I'm good at, and usually I am mostly confused at why other people don't seem to be able to do it. I guess I'm a better slacker than I give myself credit for, and most people have more important things to worry about than how pretty the rain looks on the new bus shelter. The critical decision here was the focus point, which I had to control - it's a different photo if the trees are in focus instead of the drops, and probably not as good. What's fun with auto focus is that you frequently have to fight your camera to achieve focus on what you want to be in focus, but that fight can itself reveal more interpretations. My camera is now considered a near antique, so it doesn't include 489 focus points or whatever, and things like Eye focus are even more in my dreams. But since most of my photos are of things that are far away, don't move, and don't talk back, I can usually take all the time I want to frame the shot, make exposure decisions, and hold still.

The framing was pretty simple, once I had as usual decided to remove most of the context. I didn't design the shelter - why should I care to show it in all its complete glory? When you are interested in details, like I am, the problem becomes how to make sure that you exclude anything you don't need, like the skylight frame. I did remove one small leaf in post-production, which bugged me but probably no one else would have noticed. The included blue sky was not really a conscious decision, but I like it, and it sort of reveals that we are looking up after all.

Another interesting facet of "After the Rain" is that it changes when you enlarge it. Most photos do not change very much - yes, a landscape can have more impact at a larger size by revealing more detail, and some photos do have a "best" size, but they usually are about the same thing. This image's subject changes as it gets larger. As a 4" x 4" photo coaster, it's about the original idea; it stays that way until about 16" x 16", when it becomes more about the pattern of drops; at 24" x 24", the subject has become the in-focus(!) trees within the drops! So I actually took a raindrop photo, which is about the raindrops as additional lenses for the subject beyond, without really trying, for better or worse. I can't show you larger images here, but additional crops might explain:

16" X 16" simulation: 24" x 24" Simulation: The subject of the photo has subtly changed, even though you could argue that the image was never really "about something." It certainly wasn't about the new bus shelters in Portland. But I will say that when this image is viewed in the proper context, like my booth on a typical "nice" day in Portland (only threatening rain) that it certainly catches the mood of our fair city.

Finally, what happens when you go even more abstract, by eliminating color? I did this for a customer who wanted a portfolio of black and white images.

It's a little more somber, but the lack of color forces even more attention on the raindrops. I hope this has been interesting, until next time, Rich.

(Richard Lishner Photography) Fri, 01 Jan 2021 20:00:00 GMT