Backyard Abstraction

I have been back in my backyard. You know shooting for my backyard project. If you have followed my blog for a while, you don’t need any introduction to this project. But for new readers, here is a short and quick outline: Every so often—since 2011 in fact—I have used my backyard experimenting with my photography, shooting in ways I would normally not.

Now that autumn is about to fade out into the next season, the colours are maybe less intense than a month ago, but still plentiful. However, instead of focusing on the autumn colours in a traditional way, this time I went for a more abstract approach.

Moving the camera while using a longer shutter speed is nothing new. But playing around with direction and different ways of moving the camera, I discovered that shooting up against the sky created some beautiful, mixed shapes in the boundaries between highlights and the much darker leaves. I experimented with the shutter time, and shot with anything from a ¼ of a second to a couple of seconds. The images captured were extremely low contrasting, though, so in postproduction I had to amp up the contrast significantly. Usually increasing the contrast will also increase the saturation, so I chose to de-saturate the colours drastically.

If you haven’t seen my previous photos, here is the links to post about my backyard project: Shooting Sideways, Backyard Bliss, Experimental Backyard, My Photographic Retreat, My Backyard Project, My Personal Challenge, The World from the Backyard, Instagram my Backyard, Out of Comfort Zone and Challenge and Expand.


Shooting Sideways

Those of you who follow me on a regular basis, know that I have my little backyard photo project. It’s an unpretentious project in which I seek to expand my vision and photograph in ways I usually won’t do.

The fact that it’s unassuming is very important. It gives me liberty and unrestrained freedom not having to create anything noteworthy. It’s a playground for me, a place to experiment and photograph sideways as the Canadian photographer Freeman Paterson calls it. What he means by that is shooting contrary to your usual routines. If you always compose meticulous then try to photograph without looking through the viewfinder. If you always photograph with wide-angle lenses, then put on your longest lens and give it a shot. If you always make sure that you have a fast enough shutter speed to prevent blurred images, then go for a really long shutter speed and see what the result will be.

Shooting sideways is a way to ensure that I, as a photographer, do not get stuck in my photographic vision, but rather seek new ways to express myself. The more experienced we become in our art, the more we run a risk of sinking into some standard routines. We know what works, and we apply this knowledge in our creative endeavour. And in so doing we actually stop being creative and our art becomes rather boring.

Thus my unpretentious backyard project. Using the backyard makes it easy to shoot whenever I have some spare time. Since it’s my backyard I can access it easily and at any time I feel like. There are no restrictions except what lies within the boundaries of the backyard. Most importantly is the lack of restrictions when it comes to how and what I choose to shoot. It may sound contrary then, that I often make a set of limitations for each time I go out to photograph. I do so because I want to stimulate my creativity—and nothing stimulate it as much as limiting it—and I want to make sure I don’t fall back on old routines and shoot as I normally would do.

The photos in this post was shot not long ago, and this time around I decided to photograph with a 400 mm at maximum aperture. It’s a lens (actually a 100-400 mm but in this case set at 400) I usually never use for anything except when I cover some news event.

If you don’t know my backyard project, here are previous posts with photos captured over time: Backyard Bliss, Experimental Backyard, My Photographic Retreat, My Backyard Project, My Personal Challenge, The World from the Backyard, Instagram my Backyard, Out of Comfort Zone and Challenge and Expand.

Backyard Bliss

Some of you, who have followed me for a time, may know that I have this ongoing, unpretentious photo project. It’s as simple as photographing my backyard. There is no prestige or any achievements associated with the project. I do it in order to have a project I can turn to whenever I have a spare moment and don’t want to spend a lot of time and effort to get started. It’s as easy as can be to just pick up a camera and step outside into the backyard.

What more is, I want to have a project in which I can experiment to my heart’s desire, throw myself off the usual rut, do anything differently just to do something different. On assignments, I can’t take chances, not to the same extent at least. Neither do I want to when I am working on one of my “serious” projects. Therefore the backyard project.

It’s really not a photo project about the backyard, I am not trying to make a story about it or convey some of its mood or the feeling it can evoke. The pictures don’t have to say “backyard”. The only condition I have set to myself is that all pictures will have to have been captured in the backyard. Furthermore, I have imposed onto myself to not photograph the way I usually do, but rather break anything and do opposite of whatever I do when I am in my usual flow. Everything is allowed and nothing is ruled out.

My first post of the backyard projects goes back to July 2011. If you want to look up previous posts and photos, you’ll find them here: Experimental Backyard, My Photographic Retreat, My Backyard Project, My Personal Challenge, The World from the Backyard, Instagram my Backyard, Out of Comfort Zone and Challenge and Expand.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken a Canon Eos 1D with either a 16-35 or a 24-105 mm lens. The photos were processed in Lightroom, Photoshop and Nik Color Efex.

On a different note. If you would like to have a photo critiqued—almost like I do in my workshops—remember I only keep this offer open a couple of more days. By the end of the month I will again close the picture critique. If you have a picture you would like to have feedback on, post a link to it on my Picture Critique-page.

Experimental Backyard

Those of you who have followed me for a while, may know or remember that I have this little backyard project of mine. Every so often I go out and spend some time in the yard and try to capture pictures I would not normally do. It’s my little playground where I can have fun and experiment as much as I want to.

My backyard project is a very unpretentious project. That is the whole point. No requirements and thus no performance anxiety related to whatever I do in the backyard. On the contrary, I let myself loose, I try out new approaches or techniques and I don’t care if it all turns out bad or boring. I go out in the yard and shoot deliberately with settings that would normally be regarded as mistakes, I break every rule the book, I shoot contrary to standard beliefs, all in order to have a place where nobody can tell me what to do, where nobody is hanging over my shoulder—not even myself.

Part of it is just to have fun without any pressure; part of it is a way to expand my visual language and my photographic voice. And I really enjoy every time I go out there. I don’t always get photos that is really worth the time spend shooting in the backyard, but I don’t care. It’s just lovely to not have any goals or requirements once every so often. Those approaches I try out in my backyard, I won’t dare to do on an assignment or at an important shooting. But back there it doesn’t matter. What more is, sometimes the trials come up with results that amaze me because they are so different from anything I could consciously have conceived or produced. Moreover, some of these «techniques» actually end up being part of my regular repertoire.

This time, for the pictures you see here, I deliberately went out and over-exposed the images with two stops. In addition, I selected a shutter speed of around one second. Sometimes I tried to hold the camera still, sometimes I intentionally moved it during the exposure. Long time ago I actually did this as a mistake during an assignment and I was taken by some of these images, that I hadn’t intended to make. They turned out quite interesting (of course it was nevertheless a catastrophe for the assignment). Now, in the backyard, was the time to try it out a little more purposefully. Since there is no way to actually have control of the final expression when I was shooting, I wanted to see how many photos I needed to take before one came out that could be worth saving.

The result is interesting. I am actually quite please with a few images. You may think they are boring daubs, and that’s quite OK. I think I like them for the resemblance with the expression of some of the impressionists from around the previous turn of the century.

For other posts with pictures from my backyard project, you may look up this entries: My Photographic Retreat, My Backyard Project, My Personal Challenge, The World from the Backyard, Instagram my Backyard, Out of Comfort Zone and Challenge and Expand.

My Photographic Retreat





Do you have a photo project you return to for inspiration and to unwind from daily pressure and stress? And, maybe even more importantly, a project that you can easily throw yourself into when you have some time off?

I am a big believer in working on personal photo projects. It keeps you focused. Furthermore, nothing can add so much to your photographic development as working on a project. However, just the word «project» may throw many off the ground. It sounds a little pretentious or even prestigious, doesn’t it?

Well, a personal photo project does not have to be either, nor something you need to go far away to pursue. In fact the closer it is to home and the less you put into it of prestige or high-flying prerequisites, the easier it will be to carry on working on the project.

That is exactly the point with my backyard project. Those of you, who have followed my blog some time, know I return to this project every so often. It’s my way of finding balance when everything comes falling down upon me, or when I am in some sort of limbo, when I can’t find inspiration or don’t feel like photographing.

My backyard project has no ambitions or achievements associated with it. It’s just something I do for fun. Even more so, I allow myself to do anything that I would not otherwise do, for instance when working for a client or doing «serious» projects. I let myself loose. Let myself go with any whim or impulse that comes to mind. I certainly break all the rules in the book, whether it is shooting without focusing, using «wrong» lenses, or like the pictures in this post, shoot with very long shutter speeds without using a tripod.

For other posts with pictures from my backyard project, you may look up this entries: My Backyard Project, My Personal Challenge, The World from the Backyard, Instagram my Backyard, Out of Comfort Zone and Challenge and Expand.

I truly recommend any of you who are serious about your photography to work on a project like this. It expands your vision, it helps find inspiration when none is, it develops you craft, it makes you less tense when you are shooting more important work, it extends you photographic platform.

Do you have a photo project, that is easily within reach to do and that you return to every so often?

Facts about the photos: All photos were taken with a Canon Eos 5D with a 24-104 mm lens, mostly at the long end of the lens, like 85-105 mm. Shutter speed: 1 second. I hold the camera still for about half the time and then moved it in various ways for the reminder of the open shutter time. The aperture varies from f/16. to f/22. The photos were processed in Lightroom.

Challenge and Expand

I find that it’s way too easy to get stuck in my own visual expression in the day to day jobs or when doing assignments. After having photographed for as many years as I have, you know what works, you have certain ideas of how to approach a given photographic situation and you know what to look for when photographing. The danger is that you stop looking for other ways of telling the story or expressing the photographic idea or even looking for new ideas. You have your style, it works but after a while your pictures start to look the same way. In reality then, I have put my creativity on halt.

To be creative actually means to find new solutions to known situations, using what you already know in new combinations or just letting go of everything you already know and take a chance. In reality that’s often more difficult than it sounds. As I said I have found a formula that works for me, and unconsciously often stick to it. Maybe too often. That’s why I search for ways to train myself to disconnect from this automated or mindless approach. And just so it’s said; I don’t believe in a new creative style or approach just for the sake of being new. What I want is really just to expand my vision and photographic expression, while at the same time it needs to serve the purpose of the picture or whatever I am trying to tell.

To keep my vision and the approach to a photographic shoot alive, I do various kinds of exercises that break with my regular way of shooting. I give myself personal assignments which have the purpose of forcing me into new ways of seeing – and of course to add to my portfolio of interesting pictures. It’s a way of challenging myself. Sometimes it is exercises that only bring about new ideas I can use in other situations, but sometimes these personal assignments actually result in new and great photos. I don’t know if the personal assignment I show a few pictures of in this post really does the latter, but I am actually quite happy with some of them.

For maybe a year or so I have been shooting our backyard – on and off. It’s challenging me in various ways. First of all just the subject itself. Although my interest in photography started with nature photography, today I find most pictures of nature – landscape or wildlife – quite uninteresting, even from the best in the trade. They are nice, but boring – to me. I have always enjoyed outdoor life, and of course I take pictures when I am out there, but maybe because I know how intense the experience can be when you are climbing a mounting on your own or kayaking through an open sea surrounded by water and big waves or scuba diving in freezing water, pictures of nature doesn’t get to me. Of course a backyard, photographically speaking, is even harder to make interesting then.

Then when I am shooting in the backyard, I challenge myself by restricting my approach. One day I only shoot with a 400 mm, one day with only long shutter speeds, one day with limited depth of field, one day with moving camera, one day in the dark, one day of only details and so on and so on. It’s all to force myself to see in various ways, and see how different I can shoot those 40 square meters of a backyard. Most of the pictures are only for internal use and never to be shown, but once in a while I come across something I find interesting. Now when I go out in the back yard with the camera, it can be pretty hard to motivate myself to start shooting again, simply because I think I have already explored what is to be explored. But then when I start, at some point things move around in my head and I begin to see the backyard differently again – and that’s when the fun begins. Sometimes it takes half an hour, sometimes two hours. But as long as I keep pushing myself, something will eventually happen.

It’s be a really fun assignment, and now I look forward to spending more time in the backyard.