May 13, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

I'd like to continue last week's discussion of finding excuses for getting out there and taking photographs. In addition to promoting some exercise, a proper photographic walkabout lets you stretch your aesthetic legs, especially in the pursuit of what I might call "the picture not taken." It's one thing to take a hike in Yosemite, or even a local park, and another to try to find photographs on the short walk to the anticipated photo destination.

By stretching your imagination of what could make an interesting image, you accomplish three things. You begin to appreciate the beauty that exists in the world beyond the obvious. You reduce the pressure to create an epic image, because after all, you are just noticing a little thing that maybe didn't even make you go "wow", but at least made you go "huh." And finally, by focusing on something that others might not even consider a "subject", you reduce the ordinary pressure to make your image about documenting the real world.

In this essay I will concentrate on just four images, all taken on a jaunt to and across the Morrison Bridge to Downtown Portland. It is very rare that one walkabout can deliver four "keepers", and I don't really feel that any of these photos are in any way "epic." Remember, I did get in a nice walk on a beautiful day, and sometimes the exercise of getting something out of basically nothing is worth the experimental time. I hope you can get something out of the process of making these images, even if you are not overwhelmed by the results I achieved.

The first image is of a somewhat famous neon sign of a bowling alley on my route to the bridge. Portland has a heritage of unique signage that recalls a time when sign makers came as cheap as carpenters, and a good sign was a point of retail pride, no matter how humble the establishment. I took something close to this same image a few years ago, and it had a future as a pretty steady selling coaster - most of my customers respond to a local landmark, especially if it is obscure enough to highlight their local expertise. Of course I mislaid this original file, and the image became one of "the missing", cited on my list of hopefully temporarily lost images that actually will sell. So on this walk I took a moment to try to recreate the image.

I took about half a dozen attempts, trying to isolate the sign, make sure it was somewhat straight, and give it enough room so that I could later crop to a square coaster.  This is not as easy as it sounds, since I'm trying to fit a vertical sign into a square frame. I also had to deal with the support structure and the awnings that were underneath the sign. I finally determined which side of the sign looked better, based on the background, and went on my way.

The result was pretty underwhelming, but I began to see what I could make of it. The square crop was accomplished without losing any of the sign, and I straightened and centered it in the frame. Images this simple must be straight, and if you are going for symmetry, you better adjust that sign to be right in the middle or your "mistake" will jar and annoy your viewers. After all the usual moves in Lightroom, it was time to proceed to On One for some magic. At the risk of the balance of the image, I had to get rid of the remnant of the vintage lamp post on the left - my crop had left this distraction, and it was time for the magic eraser to get rid of something that was clearly not adding to whatever the image was trying to say.


Magic act over, it was time to get rid of the blue sky, which always seems inauthentic in a Portland photograph. By converting to black and white I would place more attention on the sign, which dealt with the black and white world of black bowling balls and white pins. But I was losing too much by losing the red neon, so I used some manipulation by de-saturating everything but the saturated colors, which left me with a black and white and red image. This was the extent of my knowledge of On One, which I am still mastering. After returning the file to Lightroom, I then knew how to de-saturate the only other color that remained, the remnants of blue in the sky. Don't be afraid of using parts of multiple post-processing programs to make life easier. I hope that the final image concentrates the viewers attentions on what attracted me to the sign in the first place.



The second image highlights another "site" adjacent to the Morrison Bridge. It also is another example of my folly of trying to create an attractive photograph of an art piece that I find problematic at best. This building is a speculative office building that is actually between two segments of the bridge, and is an example of "creative space" office space which is so weird that developers know it will only attract artists, architects, and other creative types - law firms need not apply. Most of Portland's bridges actually rise up over solid ground for a few blocks on the east side of the river, to reduce the grade and get over railroad tracks. Thus the first section of the Eastside has always been kind of a hidden area for trolls, darkened by the multiple bridge spans and becoming even more obscure than those streets under the "El" in New York. I think the only people who know what this building actually looks like at grade are the tenants and the architects.

It obviously has pursued a "look at me" strategy that easily provokes comment, and maybe interest, as you cross the bridge. I remain unconvinced, although I do acknowledge that the building actually improves a very problematic site. The paint job is wild enough, but when the potted plants appeared it clearly went over the top as well as over the roadway. Fran considers this kind of stuff "whimsy", while I wonder if it degrades my entire former profession.

I corrected the white balance, since the wild blue facade had made everything, including those pots, blue as well.

In any case, I try my usual strategy in isolating one part of the building in order to highlight the absurdity - their is no need to show the entire five-story box, and the idea that the viewer could imagine that this nonsense goes on even further might heighten their fears. The color of the facade was so wild that even my black and white version just de-saturates everything but the blues, and those potted plants now look closer to their eventual grey demise from all of the surrounding auto fumes.

When I finally arrived Downtown, I was struck by the contrast I noticed at one corner of one of our vintage office buildings. I don't know its name, and I don't care. This image is all about the sun, the light and shadow, and the repetitive nature of office windows of a certain age. It was necessary to straighten and relocate my corner as close as I could get to a central vertical. While I've got nothing against light brown brick, that blue sky was again annoying me, so I went to black and white. Monochrome allowed me to both add more contrast and to highlight the sun's focus on one side of the facade, and its absence on the other.

My last image on this day could symbolize one of city's nicknames as "Bridgetown." While it is frequently easiest to focus on the bridges when we are actually crossing them, I was struck by the layering of, count them, four different bridges to the south of the Morrison. The Hawthorne, Marquam, Tilikum, and Ross Island bridges all combine to form a wave of lines and shapes and four different engineering eras in one shot. My main attempt was to try differentiate the different spans so the viewer wasn't overwhelmed by the mess. I cropped to a panorama to focus the attention on the lines, eliminating distracting amounts of sky and river. I increased the contrast to show off the Tilikum's white cables and the Ross Islands"s black steel, and hoped the Hawthorne's towers and the Marquam's hulk would allow them some power in the image. I tried to place the Ross Island's arch as close to the center as possible. The color version tries to use the green of Ross Island to prove a contrasting background to all of these lines. The black and white version increases the contrast and allows more bridge detail to draw the viewer's attention. I'm not sure which works better.

I hope you've enjoyed another jaunt, and encourage you to take along your camera provide another excuse to get out of the house. Every one of your images doesn't have to be "important" if it provides the opportunity to practice your craft.