Monday, September 15, 2014

Lily-topped towers

Greetings Everyone,

   Summer is definitely packing her bags and heading south. The last of the Hummingbirds left a few days ago, JUST before the north winds howled out of Canada and plunged the thermometers down 20 degrees from our usual daily temps. While I know in my mind that the calendar days must move towards the coming Autumnal equinox, it is always a melancholy time for me, even on lovely sunny days. But the cooler weather does bring some rewards... soon the fall colors will be blazing across the forests and we'll all be wide-eyed with wonder with the beauty and magic of each brilliant leaf and tree. Until then I have a couple other summer houses to share and there will be some other special announcements coming up soon as well.

  Today I'm showing the Day-lily topped towers. For years I have wanted to make a little castly-type structure that would hold Day-lily blossoms for roofs on the towers. Around here I use the wild Day-lilies so the blossoms are not huge. This means that the house has to be on the small side in order to be in scale. I tried several versions and each time the towers were too big. Eventually I got it right. Sadly, the flowers are aptly named so this meant it took several days of experimenting and each day used up one bloom. But the swaths of wild Daylilies were very generous this year and the supply of suitable blossoms/roofs was abundant.

  This house is actually quite diminutive, only about 5 x 6 x 6 inches. The lattice windows are made from Porcupine quills glued to the inside of the Birch-bark tubes. I have a large collection of dried wild grapevine tendrils that I love to add on pieces like this for decorative accents. In high summer we also have a wild, flowering grass that has tiny but very bright pink blossoms that are the perfect scale for "shrubbery" outside of a house like this. I found some in a meadow and brought them along with me for these photos. You may need to click on the image to see them better. I have hopes that this house will be used in next year's Amber Lotus calendar!

    A note about taking these photos: If you've ever tried to photograph a bright object that is in full sun but in a deep shade setting you'll know how challenging it is to get it right. Our eyes are able to see the full range of bright to deep shade without too much difficulty but our digital cameras struggle in these conditions. Make the exposure such that the highlights are not "blown out" and the shadows are too dark and unreadable. Make the exposure sufficient to see into the shadows and you loose all the details in the brightly lit areas. If you try to use a flash you can wash everything out and loose the natural look. So.... how to get a shot like the one above? A white birch bark tower hit by a blast of full sun but in a deep-shade mossy bank?
     There is a trick to it, naturally. Here is what I do: I set my camera for multiple shots and I set the auto bracketing feature so I will get 3 images shot in rapid succession with varying degrees of exposure. The camera is set up on a tripod in absolute lock-down so nothing can move or jiggle. I compose the frame as I want it and then the shutter clicks and shoots 3 images in rapid succession - one with the exposure in the middle for the middle values, one that is under-exposed so the highlight details are at their best and one that is over-exposed so the shadow details are illuminated. I shoot LOTS of images because the sun is filtering in and out thru the wind-blown foliage above and every second things are changing. 
    Then I move the tripod for another view/angle and repeat the process. A single sculpture like this one can have 50-100+ shots taken of it.... more if the conditions are really challenging. 
    Once I'm back home I look at all the images. I find the framing that I like the best and then look at the exposures for that composition. If I have 3 exposures that show the details in the well-lit areas as well as details in the shadows then I select those images to "composite" in Photoshop. Sometimes it takes more than 3 images to get the whole range of lights and shadows. In Photoshop there are a couple of different methods one can use to layer all the images together. The key to success is to have absolutely identical images (except for exposure) that you can layer together. Some clever cameras will do this layering of multiple image files while they are still in the camera. Other cameras have very expensive optics that can record a broader range of light values. Since I'm slightly old-fashioned, I prefer to take multiple shots and then layer them myself. Some might say this is cheating, but I don't agree. I just see it as a technique to use tools (the camera and computer ) to get as close as possible to what our amazing eyes can already see without any assistance.
     My goal in my image-making is always to bring the viewer into the field and forest and record what they would see if they were with me. Without the mosquitoes and black flies, of course!



Anonymous said...

This small lovely castle certainly deserves to be used in next year's calendar!

claude said...

estival et lumineux

Welcome to the enchanted world of Environmental art and Faerie Houses sculptures created by Sally J Smith. Here you will find photos of the artist's unique art-forms and hear some of the stories from behind the scenes as she shares with you her creative process.