Sunday, April 1, 2012

Fog On The Cuyahoga - Atmospheric Perspective

© Stuart Pearl 2012 - Click on Images to Enlarge

We get all kinds of weather in Cleveland.  "Lake Effect" can randomly dump snow, deliver rain, and cause fog when least expected.  All this happens downtown and across both eastern and west suburbs.  But the Flats Valley creates it's own atmospheric effects. 

Cold lake water, a warmer river current and Spring showers can create some interesting photo opportunities.  Above, the 620' bulk carrier Mississagi heads out to the lake under a light rain and fog.

Tied up along Columbus Road is the 110' Apalachee.  Built in 1943 she is now a retired U.S. Coast Guard Cutter and one day will become a floating museum.  During her life she performed search and rescue, fire fighting, law enforcement and ice breaking duties on the Great Lakes.  A video of the Apalachee arriving in Cleveland on May 29, 2009 can be seen on Jeff Thoreson's blog here.

I've always tried to imbue my images with a sense of depth.  I want the viewer to feel that the near portions of a landscape are rising up to meet the eye while the far objects are receding into the distance.  This creates the feeling of dimensionality. 

I'm not attempting 3-D or stereoscopic photography. I'm just trying to create a visual experience that goes beyond the flat print hanging on the wall or being viewed on a computer monitor.

The great landscape painters faced a similar challenge long before photography was invented.  How could they represent the real world which has height, width and depth, on a flat two dimensional canvas?  They used a concept we refer to as atmospheric perspective. 

When we gaze out over a landscape, the closer foreground objects are more colorful, sharper in detail and have greater contrast.  Things in the distance are less distinct, fuzzier and the atmosphere may even look hazier.  Our brain and eyes then assemble this information into the three demensional vision of the world we see.

A walk along the Cuyahoga on a foggy day provides great opportunities for this type of photography.  Foreground objects are sharp and bold in their solid relief.  The background fades into a muted distance as colors lose their saturation and become indistinct.  Photographic compostions done under the even lighting of a cloudy day can take on a soft painterly aspect.  This can be a wonderful change from the often razor sharp aspect of today's digital photography.  There are also processing techniques in Photoshop that I use to enhance my artistic interpretations of Flats landmarks. 

A major criticism of digital photography is that often the maker creates photos that are too sharp.  They become harsh in their representation of the world.  This can have it's place depending upon the goal and intent of the photographer.  But too apply this as a broad brush to every image is a mistake.  I use the sharpenning technique sparingly - not every object should jump off the photographic canvas.  I still like to have most of my images look like traditional photographics, pleasing to the eye, and relaxing to view.

Concrete River Bank Anchors on the Cuyahoga

I've often told fellow photographers that much can be learned by walking through a museum's landscape galleries, and studying the great works. Albert Bierstadt is one such artist I've admired. He created such beautiful works as Looking Up Yosemite Valley , Rocky Mountains , and The Oregon Trail . The last is one of my favorites. I've viewed it in the permanent collection of the Butler Institute of American art.  Standing a few feet from this magnificent work it's a sight to behold.

Once the fog burns off you can see an interesting view of the Hart Crane Memorial Park on Columbus Road.  It features interesting metal sculpture inspired by Crane's poetry.  Gene Kangas designed this public art.

This last compostion was made during the 2011 Ingenuity Festival, well above the Cuyahoga.  The weather had been clear and sunny that day in constrast to my fog shrouded compositions. 

The streetcar level of the Detroit-Superior Bridge was open to the public as part of the festival.  I felt the "theater lighting" of the subway arches provided nice framing of the Flat's stacks and other bridgespans against the backdrop of a beautiful sunset.  It's here simply because I feel it's a pretty image.


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