Friday, 14 May 2021

Mindfulness and photography

Why use photography as mindfulness 


A brief couple of paragraphs explaining why I have started focusing more on mindfulness and applying it to photography.



 Recently I have commenced a new health programme to correct a few imbalances and nutritional issues in my body that may be causing many of the symptoms associated with M.E./Chronic fatigue syndrome which I have had for 14-15 years. My health professional has a wonderful holistic approach despite her main focus and expertise being in nutrition, which is very much in line with my own approaches. As part of the new health plan I spend time outside in nature to compliment my circadian rhythms and aid sleep, follow a complex nutrition and supplement protocol ( gluten free, dairy free, low sugar, low alcohol, low lectins, low oxalates) plus work on practicing mindfulness and stimulating my vagus nerve. In people experiencing M.E./CFS it is thought that a dysfunctional autonomic nervous system (ANS) could be causing many symptoms such as sleep issues, cognitive difficulties, inflammation and pain. People with M.E/CFS are said to have a low vagal tone and increasing this is thought to aid in reducing symptoms. These mainly involve techniques that induce the relaxation response which, over time, affects autonomic nervous system functioning. More in depth info is on the ME association for anyone who is interested. Self help measures that help to increase vagal tone include - Deep breathing exercises ( check out Wim Hoff the ice man - fascinating), Mindfulness, Meditation, gentle aerobic exercise such as yoga, massage, acupuncture, cold (showers), sunlight, laughter, healthy eating. 


 In the last couple of months I have found myself more and more drawn into learning about mindfulness, which has led to exploring spirituality and meditation, even a bit of yoga. I started by reading books when my brain fog would allow, watching a wide variety of videos on you tube and listening  to guided meditations. I've tried all sorts from Wim Hoff's intense guided Deep breathing, to sleep hypnosis, very gentle guided yoga, and a programme of ten minute mindfulness exercises to be practiced daily. So I have proceeded along a new path of self discovery quite by accident. I have found deep meditative states that I can only describe as bliss, a more peaceful way of being and I have been left questioning all that I do, including photography.



 I get out to try a little photography an average of once a week and lately I have had some very set ideas in mind that I specifically wanted to attempt producing, with end results in mind. However, things don't always go to plan -sometimes wind or sunshine ( or lack of it) have affected my plans, other times my cognitive functioning, fatigue, low energy levels have resulted in me forgetting something crucial in the process, making schoolgirl errors etc - its not easy when your brain does not function fully, or equipment has been a little off! Consequently I have repeatedly been disappointed with my results, usually knowing I could do better if my brain and body were functioning better - I don't like being negative so tried hard to brush it off, but underneath the frustration and struggle is real as I only get to try once a week and that's my energy gone, all used up and having to rest for days afterwards. 



 Luckily I love the process of taking photos, whether they work well or not, I have often said that photography is my own therapy, my own form of mindfulness. I enjoy planning for it, getting things ready, scouting locations, planning lenses or lighting etc and any accessories or people involvement. This is where the mindfulness ties in, I realised in the midst of practicing and learning about all these meditative techniques and my frustration following my difficulties producing what I wanted in photography and realised that I need to step back a bit, applying mindfulness to my photography in a different way.



 So I am setting out to simply take my camera and lenses out with me without preconceived ideas, aiming to be totally engaged in the present moment, to take in what is around me and try to look at things in new ways, applying the techniques I have picked up over the years. My plan is to simply enjoy the peace and beauty of nature, the natural wildness and attempt to capture some of it in photographs, without judgement or pressure. I will be combining this with short spells of meditation, totally immersing myself in my surroundings, whatever the weather, relaxing and being totally relaxed yet uplifted by nature. Hopefully this will shine through in the images that I produce.



 I started in my garden, sitting and lying looking at the plants, insects and birds. The sun was shining through the undergrowth, peeking through and causing the surface of our pond to sparkle with the colours of the plants beyond. I chose a couple of crystals to give a similar feel and used a shallow depth of field to provide a more ethereal look, closer to what I was experiencing. These are not what I would call good compositions but closer to what nature was presenting - you cannot control nature.




 This is a different approach to most of the photography I have done lately, often at home, I have been trying to produce specific type of images with a purpose in mind - often for competitions, which has been my main driving force. I wonder if my new interest in mindfulness, meditation and spirituality will change my reasons for doing photography, or entering competitions, if it will affect what I produce. It will be an intriguing path to follow and may help me see things through new eyes. Watch this space.



Here are a selection of images taken on a recent trip to a Bluebell filled woodland where I could not move far due to mud on the paths ( my mobility scooter kicks up a fuss in mud!). I had planned to simply photograph some close ups of Bluebells, but the light was so beautiful that I felt compelled to capture it. Here I did sit and absorb the sights, sounds and smells, being one of the most beautiful sights of the year for me ( missed last year due to lockdown restrictions). All 3 images below were taken within about 20 ft space. A family were out with their dog and I grabbed the opportunity to capture the moment.




 I would like to add that in the months following this approach that I have progressed from being in moderate pain pretty much  99% of the time to only having normal aches and pains. I am fairly confident that this is as a result of reducing both lectins and oxalates in my diet, but know that mindfulness is helping me to address residual pains effectively. Its early days yet, but this is a very promising sign.


Thursday, 4 March 2021

Textures how to use them and how to make them

  I adore seeing images with painterly, ethereal appearances, where photographs and textures are carefully meshed together to create a masterpiece. I have dabbled with using textures in my imagery ever since I started getting into photography. Firstly, the son of a friend helped me to learn how to create digital signature images  for use on internet forums around 18 years ago. After this I practiced blending layers together to create signatures tailored to individuals. 

 Below are a couple of  my photographs where I first used textures. You can see they are quite basic, but the sunflower one remains an old favourite. These are both from around 2008.



The next images show how my blending and layering techniques evolved over the following years as I learned from fellow photographers on Ephotozine and DeviantArt. Most of the textures I used then were free downloads off DeviantArt, Flickr, Ephotozine and similar sites.




As you can see I started out my photographic journey capturing flowers a lot, something which I have recently got back into. But I also used textures with other genres such as portraits.




 As I started entering competitions I discovered that it was important to use my own textures in my digital manipulations in images that I intended on entering to certain categories/competitions. So I started learning how to create my own textures. I first started by painting some card with watercolours then photographing those. I also photographed various textured surfaces such as walls, stone, wood, paper and manipulated these in photoshop.  I still have the painted textures and sell these as one of the texture packs that I have put together. 
 
This was one of the first textures I made, which was originally from a photograph of a stone quarry near where I lived. 


This is one of my latest texture collections - I have many available, a lot available on my Deviant art stock account A68Stock or by contacting me directly on Facebook Angi Wallace Photography,  or by email - angiwallace@live.co.uk


This image of a Crocus was created with just one of my own textures, I altered the colour of the texture to get the glowing blue/lilac colour that I wanted.




So how do I use textures? 
If new to textures - To use in photoshop ( Ive started with basic simple instructions for those who are new to using textures)
Open the photo or artwork you wish to apply your texture to
Then also open the texture you wish to apply, with this texture open click on Select then All, then click on Edit at the top of your work space and choose copy from the list,
then go to the photo you are applying it to, go to Edit again and choose paste. Now you will see the texture appear over you photo. So below you see my original photo open in photoshop.
You should have a Layers panel open ( mine is bottom right of the screen) where you can see both layers in a panel - each layer will have an eye icon next to it for you to choose whether you want it to be visible or not. Your photo will automatically be named Background layer and the texture will be named Layer 1 unless you choose to alter the name. In this Layers panel you need to click on the texture to choose that layer - this will highlight the layer within the panel - so anything you do following this will apply to that layer.

Within the layers panel you will see a dropdown list starting with "Normal" - this list is of blending modes - in the Newest version of Photoshop you can hover over each blending mode and it will show you a preview of how that blending mode will affect the layer, each will give it a different appearance. Scroll through these and find which blending mode you prefer and click on it - it will be applied to your texture layer giving the image a different look. 

Also within the Layers panel there is an Opacity option where you can reduce the opacity of the layer for a more subtle look. I often reduce opacity.

 I find it useful to select areas of the texture, feathering it and reduce the opacity by using masks, this is particularly handy when you want a particular subject in your photo to show throw more prominently.
To start this process you will need to choose your texture layer by clicking on it in the layers panel - you will know you have done this right when the layer is highlighted in a lighter grey within the panel. Then click on the Layer mask icon  at the bottom of the Layers panel ( it is the white rectangle with dark grey circle within) When you click this a white rectangle will appear in the Layers panel next to your texture - this is your "layer mask". It will be surrounded by white corners showing you that it is selected. See below screenshot.

What is a layer mask?
Basically whatever part of your mask is white is what you can see of that layer, whatever you paint in black  using the brush tool over your image will be removed from view. So in my image I want to see the bottles and flowers with less texture on them. I start by loosely selecting the area around them using the lasso tool from the top left of your tools. Do this by drawing around your subject and you will have an area selected by flickering with dots ( often called marching ants). 
Now because this is the area we want removed and we do not want a harsh line of where texture starts and ends, we are going to feather the edges of this selection. This will help give the image a better blended appearance when finished.  So go to "Select" in the top options and scroll down to "Modify" and another few options will appear - choose"Feather". A small box will appear asking how many pixels you want to feather by. On my first layer for a full size hi res image I tend to start by feathering a lot, so chose 300 pixels for this image. type in your chosen number and press ok. The selected area surrounded by marching ants will shrink a bit. 

Next we need to fill this selected area with black. Make sure in your layers panel that the texture layer is highlighted grey and the mask has the white corners. Then from the top options choose "Edit" then "Fill". A new box will appear asking what colour - we want black. Also what percentage, I choose 50% for my first layer as I remove more in my  next layer. Then click ok. Then click Select and "Deselect to get rid of the marching ants.  
For this image I am using a normal blending mode so had my opacity reduced to enable me to see  the bottles and flowers. Now that I have masked out my first area I can change my opacity back to 100% to get an idea of how it is looking. As we can see below there is still some texture over the bottles/flowers.


Following the steps above again we select smaller areas and feather these a lot less - say 100pixels, so starting with the bottle on the left I select an area smaller than the bottle itself. ( again make sure the texture layer is selected and the mask selected before filling this area with Black at about 75% this time. Deselecting and repeating for each bottle and flower. If something is very small then feather less pixels.  Soo after masking these little areas my image looks like this below.

You could your image like this  or mask out less than I have, this is totally up to you and depends on the look that you want. But for a further step, if you want texture removed accurately or completely from some areas then choose the brush tool on the top left and choose the colour black to paint with - checking the size of brush, whether it has a hard or feathered edge and also the opacity. Making sure your texture layer and mask is still selected you can start painting over the areas you want to see more of such as the flowers, using your brush. I often start with a lower opacity and build this up.
Below is my final image and you can see my mask in the layers panel showing the darker areas of texture I removed. This is just one of the ways I apply textures. There are other approaches too. You can use several layers of textures to build up your look. You can automatically select your subject in newer versions of photoshop or use the "select and mask" option, but this can leave harsh edges between your subject and texture which may not be what you want. There are also other options for refining edges. But this is just a basic starting point for those who have asked me. Please to get in touch if you have any questions and I will try to help


Other examples of my images with my textures applied below 

I should add that I use a Wacom tablet for all editing. I find it easier to select and paint areas and find it invaluable for editing. I have used Wacom tablets for over ten years after winning one in a competition and wont be without one now. 




I have been asked many times how I produce my textures and my techniques vary. The two textures above were simply photos taken at home - Chalkboard was a photograph of a set up for still life, where I painted an old board at home with black matt paint then sponged on white and grey areas, photographed deliberately out of focus for this effect. The second one is a similar painted, textured board simply desaturated with colour changes.
I often take photos that are deliberated out of focus to use as colour wash textures or to combine with a photograph of a textured surface. 90% of my texture photos are taken at home or in the garden. For out of focus textures I can use anything from flowers, grass and foliage outside, to the sky, a glass vase, material on clothing, curtains, bedding, bokeh from fairy lights, our fish tank etc Only your imagination stops you coming up with ideas here. For surface textures I can use standard photographs or macro photos of virtually any surface in the house - cracked leather on an old seat, crinkled paper stained with coffee, marble works top/fireplace, floor tiles, carpet, various material,l leather on boots and bags, lichen on a plant pot outside, a rusty old bolt, an old baking tray, bottom of a pan, walls, bricks, any painted surface, wood. The images below are simple snaps at home that will make wonderful textures/overlays.

This one is a simple out of focus flower photo which I have already used as a backdrop of overlay.


I find that combining my photographs helps in creating new textures, using blending modes, opacity and sometimes distorting them. Another tool I use is Topaz studio software which has a whole host of options for manipulating your images, many of which can give a lovely painterly appearance. You can download a free months trial to try it out. 



If you don't have the inclination or time to create your own textures then I have lots of different texture collections for sale starting at just £8 for a collection of 9 or 10 hi res textures.
They can all be found on this website Angi Wallace Creative Textures , but unfortunately cannot be purchased there yet as I am not earning enough from them to cover the cost of using the website as a shop. If I start to sell more then I will hopefully be able to make them available this way. In the meantime please email me and I will usually respond within hours. angiwallace@live.co.uk

I hope this has been helpful and would love to see your results. 








Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Signs of spring

 I love spring, with its ever changing weather throwing snowstorms, rain showers and increasing sunshine, combining to give us rainbows, it seems unpredictable but we know that it heralds the promise of things to come. With frogs starting mating in our ponds, birds displaying comical courtship behaviour and other wildlife coming out of hibernation. The arrival of Hellebores, Snowdrops, Crocuses, Daffodils, Dwarf Irises certainly brighten up February and March for me and give me plenty to keep myself occupied whilst waiting for spring blossoms.

 This year I have discovered a new favourite Crocus -"Firefly" with its fresh colours, a sunny yellow centre and delicate pale lilac and white petals. Who could not be delighted with these?



Whilst its been less than favourable conditions outside for photographing plants in the garden ( too windy) I am taking advantage of our mini studio in the dining room and trying out the new backdrops Ive made, so spoilt for choice with the combinations between plants and backgrounds. This has resulted in experimenting with colour palettes and making some surprising discoveries on what works. 

The image below incorporated 5 of my textures/backdrop images.


Our outhouse has become a great holding zone for plants that are not quite ready to be planted out, or flowers that I am trying to make last longer in a cool room so that I can eek out as much use of them as possible. It looks like a cross between a florists and a garden centre with 3 types of Tulips, Crocus, Snowdrops, Primula, Hellebores, Lilies and more.
 So I am starting out with close ups and aim to include a few still life creations as I go. Below is a Dwarf Iris photographed against one of my new out of focus backdrops.


I actually had my 2nd trip out to a local nature reserve a few days ago, just a couple of miles away from home, so took the camera along too. Unfortunately my mobility scooter decided to choose that day to stop working, so we were not there as long as I hoped. I did capture some spring Catkins though and opted for creating  interesting bokeh with Catkin silhouettes in the sunshine. I think these work nicely in black and white too.


Another subject caught my eye as we passed Bullrushes with their brown velvety heads split, dispersing their seeds in the wind, set against a backdrop of sparkling waters. This gave further options for producing eye catching bokeh. I actually photographed these in black and white for the forms and shapes, but I think they work well in colour too.



 
 I recently watched a very informative webinar by Guy Edwards on fungi photography, where he explained how to achieve the silhouette shapes within bokeh - something I dabbled with last year and have attempted again, more successfully in the last week or two. This was the perfect opportunity to try the technique, you can see it in the above Catkins images and some of the images below.


 I had a brief play in the garden with the bokeh technique too, it is easier to make it work in larger outdoor spaces with bokeh through vegetation and trees though. So far it seems to work better with a longer macro lens than a shorter one, I think the blur from the item causing the silhouette is too pronounced in a shorter lens, it becomes less obvious using my 150mm. I am keen to try a longer lens to see the results. You can see from  the Grape hyacinth image below how the snowdrop used has caused quite a distracting pale blur. The bokeh was from nearby vegetation sprayed with water, hence smaller bokeh, in a larger open space where the bokeh can be further away it becomes larger, making it a bit easier.



This one is a Snakes head Fritillary using fern for the bokeh. I stuck with F2.8 for the bokeh which wasn't ideal for getting the flower fully in focus, but it was just an experiment  and there were limited options space wise and where the sun hits the garden. Definitely something I will practice more of.



Below I used my Meye Gorlitz Primoplan vintage lens plus an app on my camera which produces rays of light. With a little editing. I have added a selection of other images I have taken in the last couple of weeks.








Mindfulness and photography

Why use photography as mindfulness  A brief couple of paragraphs explaining why I have started focusing more on mindfulness and applying it ...