Benedictine Monastery

Discussion in 'Seeking Critique' started by ericphelps, Jan 12, 2020.

  1. IMG_0017.jpeg There's a lovely old monastery near here in Tucson, recently threatened with demolition, but has been 'saved' to the extent of the main building being re-purposed for offices, and the surrounding six acres planned student housing for wealthy 'trustafarians'. This small stairway appealed to me, and wondering how it looks to others, with emphasis on what might improve it.

    Nikon FE, 35mm lens, FP4 at iso 125. Developed in HC110 Dil H for 10:45m, printed using Ilford PQ Universal on Ilford MG4 paper.
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  2. Hi @ericphelps, yes I like this stairway too! And however photogenic the stairway is, it's your excellent framing and composition that 'creates' this photo. I'm always delighted to see such good examples of this! For me, the added bonus is that quirky little white crack on the wall in an otherwise 'formal' composition. You did really well to take this on your Iphone with a slow shutter speed (1/15)! You must have a steady hand!

    OT: the photo reminds me of my favorite Leonard Cohen song (Anthem):
    "Forget your perfect offering
    There is a crack, a crack in everything
    That's how the light gets in"

    I think the biggest compliment I can give you is that the more I look at your photo (here and in Photoshop) the more I see in it and the more I like it.

    My initial reaction was: "hmm .... it's a bit flat and dull". So I downloaded a copy, looked at the levels, expanded the tonal range, added a bit of contrast, etc. And I then came to the conclusion that these kinds of 'technical improvements' didn't actually improve my subjective experience. In fact the opposite was true. I grew to appreciate the limited, understated tonal range in this photo. It's much more subtle than bright whites and dark blacks. So thanks for teaching me this!

    With a shutter speed of 1/15, the edges are soft (even "furry":) ) but I didn't feel that this detracted from the photo whatsoever. The 'soft' look matches the photo and enhances it.

    There are three suggestions that I can perhaps give you:
    - experiment with increasing the 'overall brightness'. Then the shape of the histogram (the subtle tonal range) stays the same, it's just shifted slightly to the right. To me, the up-shifted tonal range range looks "better exposed and more deliberately subtle" rather than "dull through low exposure"
    - consider (digitally) adding some subtle toning to the photo. Not so that the viewer would notice which color you'd applied. Just so that the photo is not 100% B/W. Adding in 5% of a warm or cool color is enough.
    - there are a couple of 'white spots' on the walls and on the carpet. Unless it's a true documentary photo, the white spots don't really add anything to the photo (except perhaps truth ;) ). But they are visual distractions from the main subject (and photo as a whole). If it was me, I would consider removing these minor distractions to produce a 'clean photo'. This lets your viewers focus on the things you want them to focus on. Without being distracted by minor irrelevant) details

    My compliments!

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  3. Thanks so very much Mike!! Your critique describes exactly what I felt also, and tried to 'do' with the photo. I use the iPhone to upload the photos and had to choose a place at home where there wasn't disturbing side lighting or skylight reflections, so a dim area was used.

    I did some little post work on it with iPhoto, and many thanks for the suggestions you discovered on it while digging a bit deeper into it. I have Gimp downloaded and its excellent, but it will take some struggling yet to do well with it.

    As soon as you mentioned the white spots I saw them! That would have been an easy fix and I'll settle down for a closer look next time.

    Memory serves nothing for me anymore, so I'll be at the Monastery again soon to look at these scenes again; for example those stuccoed decorative 'steps' on the walls above the stairwell wall. I looked/tried various adjustments to try to make those stand out a bit but couldn't find the solution. On those times when I'm disciplined I shoot the intended area heavily with the iPhone, before taking the actual picture, to have a record of what those adjacent areas and details look like to help me later in the darkroom.

    Thanks again for all the detail and suggestions, this really has helped!

    Best, Eric
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  4. I downloaded it so that I could downsize it to see it on one screen. I don't see it as part of a monastery, but, instead, an interesting pattern of rectangles and squares. I like the clean look and the balance of the several boxes. Patterns please my eyes and mind, so I like it.
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  5. Wow Mike, I hadn't listened to the Leonard Cohen song until now, incredibly achingly beautiful. He's been around since forever - like me, but I get so bullet headed with what I listen to I missed him, not anymore though - Thanks
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  6. Hi David, I agree it is better to see the photo without scrolling but it's a lot easier just to zoom out in your browser.

    Maybe a bit more contrast, but I'll defer to Mike he's looked a it more closely.

    It's always good to hear some Leonard Cohen:)
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  7. Very OT:

    I discovered Leonard Cohen way back in 1973. My then girlfriend liked singing and some of his songs and they part were part of her 'repertoire'. I played guitar and I listened for hours to a taped version of her LP', working out the exact chords and fingerpicking patterns he used on his songs. I could even play his little 'guitar solo intermezzos' on each song note note for note! So she sang and I did the backing.

    Like you, I moved on to other music (and other girlfriends).
    I'm not sure how it happened but I re-discovered Leonard Cohen when he was making his World Tours during his mid-late seventies. His elderly voice was much weaker and more limited than in his heyday. No longer the youngish, strident poet/folk-singer wanting to put the the world to rights, he seemed humbler, more grateful to be able to share his songs. In his seventies, he just seemed more likeable. His 'personal connection' with his audiences was truly amazing. And he surrounded himself with the very best musicians.

    What I especially liked was that these World Tours didn't try to replicate or re-create his heyday. Rather they were a reinterpretation that suited his age Search for Leonard Cohen Live or Leonard Cohen Webb Sisters on YouTube

    I'll leave you with another of my favorites:

    Last edited: Jan 14, 2020
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  8. Eric, I don't think the image needs much work (PP, that is). I suggest dodging the foreground section of wall. How much depends on your own taste and what you want to convey. Also, I suggest dodging To me, the shadow area is a bit muddy, so I suggest burning the places that currently appear the darkest. This will furnish a bit of contrast with the areas that are slightly lighter. Also, I recommend sharpening the entire crack selectively, not only for more detail but also to give it greater luminosity. Finally, if this were my image, I'd use whatever tool you have for selective sharpening - to sharpen those areas you think would be of most benefit.

    Hope this helps. - michael
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  9. Nothing too OT for me........
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  10. Thanks michael, I do want to try these suggestions, if for no other reason than a different look to the print, which I agree can be done very differently. So, dodge the foreground wall to lighten a bit creating more contrast. Burn in the the steps/flatwork sections, again for contrast.
    Sharpening the crack area, I'd really like to, but for this, with the limited tools in iPhoto, what would you recommend for this? Should I be looking deeper into the Gimp program?
    The only disappointment I have with this print is not having the ability to have brought out that back wall with the crack, and those great horizontal popouts. Finding a method to better show that back wall would give three distinct elements/areas to the print. I stood in front of that area again today; would this be as simple as burning it in?

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  11. I don't know what kind of lighting it gets and if the lighting would change at different times of the day. If you can return in different lighting conditions, you might find that lighting itself will differentiate the elements and areas of the photo, and it also may very well emphasize or highlight the cracks and the ridges of the horizontal popouts. Unless you're subtle, I'd be careful of selective sharpening here, because in such a continuous field, it could show as being unnatural. You may or may not want the introduction of shadows that some lighting could introduce. Currently, the soft starkness is an essential feature and dodging the crack in the back wall might be all it needs. If you do reshoot, consider the alignment of the edge of the front wall and the back corner and how you want those two to relate. I'd also try different exposures to bring out more interest in the surface of the floor, which may be a little flat compared to the rest, though it might print well as is.
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2020
  12. Excellent samstevens, thanks. It does seem anything I'd do to emphasize the crack might pull it out from the wall, and I don't want that, but perhaps some gentle dodging might help. The idea of shooting it at different times of day is great, but the building sits directly East/West, and over a six hour period I've been there the light seems about the same.

    The first shot I made there, I was walking past slowly, saw it and shot as it 'looked' perfect. But the best part of those angles is how quickly they can be changed a few degrees either way, so I'll be back. I'll bracket some shots too, I generally try to hit when the needle is dead on, but there are other concerns there too.

    Thanks again!
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  13. Eric, I use Photoshop Elements 15 and an old version of the NIK Bundle. Sadly, I have no familiarity with Gimp at all. BTW, one advantage of the NIK programs is the user's ability to use control points. Google hasn't owned the bundle for a few years now. It's available from DxO.
  14. Thanks michael, I'll take a look at it. I've overcome my early objections to 'post' work as gilding the lily, or making up for deficient darkroom skills, and even with iPhoto's limited controls it really helps.
  15. I like this shot. The composition is great and I love all the lines and tones, although on my screen it also does look a bit muddy. It seems like we're maybe missing some texture in the wall(s), at least in the foreground, I find myself wondering what it would look like in color? It really is a great shot, though and I mean that honestly.

    And yeah, Leonard Cohen... I can't say anything that hasn't already been said. His greatness will live on for sure, and his influence will go on as well. Sorry I missed his pas though our area when he toured only a few years ago. I believe he died not too long after that. Would've been great to see him. That last record (didn't his son release it posthumously?) had some moments too. Killing it from beyond the grave.

    Eric keep up the good work man.
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  16. If this stairway still exists it might be worthwhile to pose somebody on it, just for the challenge. Also, rather than focusing on Cohen, temporarily a Zen practitioner, it might be rewarding for you to learn about the Benedictine Order and their Rule. As well, the Benedictine monastery, Christ in the Desert continues in New Mexico...they let visitors spend a night or two.
  17. Here is what I ended up while working with a VERY HI VOLUME Beethoven's 8th in my headset. . . Pop the contrast about 50%, sharpen the focus just below pixilation, spot (pixel clone) some of the "goubbers" out, change contrast to suit your tastes and add a VERY light sepia cast to the final image. Yes this was done in the computer, but it could be done very EZ in a wet lab setup. Aloha, Bill 1589602_217b43d045e6e88980dae39e15e818cf ces5 sepia.jpg
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2020
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  18. I might encourage you to try one of the pyro / staining developers in your next venture. Shadows are really enhanced in these developers. Bill
  19. Someone posed on the stairs, to me, would only detract from the scene and look obvious. The feeling of peace I noticed when the print was in the fixer would be gone, and the model would become the center. And sadly, I was there again last week but the construction/demolition had begun and chain link fencing surrounded the entire site.

    The monastery building will become the centerpiece apartment of 250 upscale apartments built on the property.
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2020
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  20. This really throws a different light on it. Weirdly, it gives the steps and the adjacent flatwork a vaguely carpeted appearance. Very interesting though - Thanks.

    It may be some time before I'm back in the darkroom. I just bought a Fuji X100T, and am trying to learn its ways. I resisted PP and digital for a long time, but reached the point where all the effort of a day in front of the trays seemed silly when compared to the gorgeous digital results achieved by so many excellent photographers here.

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