Amber Waves of Grain

Posted on September 2, 2011

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Of Pints and Prints

Every time I use my digital camera, especially around Bernard, I make a promise to stop treating it like a toy, and actually apply even a smidgeon of my knowledge to taking a picture. Let alone learn all of the stuff he mentions in passing.

It’s not like I’m anti-digital.  I’m anti randomness as an approach to taking good pictures. (And, I personally don’t believe digital B&W yet rivals analog, but that’s not germane here, because that is just a matter of time.) I don’t believe whacking a canvas with chopsticks is art (design, maybe) and I once refused to sell my drop cloths to a gallery owner. (“Seriously, people would by splatters of beige? I don’t want to be part of that world.”)

One of the things that “makes” me a photographer is that it lets me, or helps me, pay attention to my surroundings in a more microscopic way. There is a certain zen-ness to the way that I actually have to put everything aside and really concentrate to get a good picture. Even when I’m not out taking pictures, per se,  I think in pictures, and always have, even as a child.

Digital School

Under the auspice that every strength is a weakness, sometimes in these moments of “what if?” I really do appreciate just being able to pick up my camera and whiz off a few shots using motor drive and shooting the whole range of f-stops. I don’t’ have to go into the dark room to learn a bunch that will allow me to make better decisions when I really do want to “get the shot,” and it’s kind of freeing to not always be thinking in terms of a print, but just to see if I can communicate visually what I saw when I was experiencing a phenomenon. And, you know, if I really did want to duplicate something the EXIF data is right there for me to look at. Of course, I never right down my analog exposures, but if  I did, it would be so cool. My approach is more “that was under exposed, that was over exposed” and then translate that into how I would use my camera.

I can’t be the only guy in the world who can appreciate the coagulating of proteins as a beer comes to boil, right? I’m telling you, that right there is its own form of art.

What I Saw Is Not What I Got

This is a great case in point. Bernard and were brewing and as always it was my duty to decoct. This is an old type of lager brewing where the mash (combination of grain and hot water where starches in the grain get converted to sugar for making beer) temperature gets gradually stepped up by removing a portion of the mash, gradually heating it to boiling, and reintroducing it. The advantage of this is that the boiled portion of the mash has caramelized sugars giving the beer more body and a malty sweetness. This is one of those things in the long tail of quality that few commercial breweries still bother doing. (Urquell is one of the few remaining.) It makes good beer great. MMMM. Hang on, I’m going to go get a schwarzbier, a dark German lager.

I know, clean the sensor, clean the lens, it’s not a toy, RTFM, etc.

The other advantage is it keeps me out of the way while Bernard brews the second batch.

I this case as I was stirring the small mash in a converted kitchen pot we use for this, I became mesmerized by the vortices the flat stir paddle made in the dense wort (hot mash), and also how the mash would form these little 3D “volcanoes” that would form above the surface, erupt, and disappear. I’m a simple man.  It was much like watching a fire. Since I had hours of this ahead of me, I grabbed my camera, which is usually nearby, and had Bernard stir while I shot.

I got some interesting shots. Frankly it was more about how the process affects the product than really trying for any “keepers.” I had issues timing the shots with the stirring and keeping the lens from fogging, but it sure was fun.

For the longest time I pushed my digital images to the right, similar in idea to over-exposing B&W negative film, to maximize the information captured  for post-processing. Also similar to B&W film, un-post-processed images look like crap (washed out for digital positives, dark for B&W). So, in situations like this where I’m not even pretending I’m saving for posterity I’m shooting from 1/2 to 2 stops underexposed.  See  my blog on Taking Great Pictures in 20 Words or Less.

At any rate, I got some interesting shots. I even started to play with the color and contrast a bit in post processing before I remembered that’s not why I was doing this.  I was trying to get  abstract shots and for that I’m quite happy. I had a few that were  interesting enough to share, but not to print.

There Be Banshees in the Brew Pot

And then, of course, I converted them to B&W.

Here, the underexposure freaking killed me.  I played with it a bit in Irfranview. One thing that was really cool there was as I moved the sliders around I got to see how different parts of the image became more or less luminous. It was like dynamically watching the luminosity dance around the print. You can’t do that in the darkroom, and it begins to answer some of my questions regarding the relationship between luminosity and contrast. After a good night’s sleep I may even get some insight from that little excursion to the dark side.

One of the things I was playing with as I shot was motion blur, which seemed either too little, or too much, in color. But in B&W, magic happened.

See the two cat-like faces here?

Face 1.

Face 2.

In general, I think of B&W being the bones and color being the skin. Due to this distillate nature, I expect that a B&W image will be more concrete. And yet, here I found that the images were almost entirely abstracted from the source. So  much so that I almost lead with them and let the reader guess the subject matter, but then the catchy title wouldn’t have made any sense and I couldn’t think of another equally catchy title.

One of the reasons I love macro is this ability to really explore the tiny things in the utmost detail, again usually an exercise in the concrete.  To have abstract macros brings up a whole new series of creative possibilities for me.

Most of the shots were inches from the surface.

I’m not going to rush out and convert any of these to digital prints, but I learned some very interesting things in a few spare moments (like that I need to go out and explore flash a little more, thanks Bernard), and continue to look into the entirely mundane, as well as the obviously photogenic,  for inspiration.

Art is everywhere, like in this pint. Prost!

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Posted in: Photography, Style