Sunday, September 30, 2012

Topographic Photography

Having been an avid photographer for about 40 years, straight documentation photography seemed very static.  Having looked at topographic maps frequently as an architect one can see the contour lines generated with stereo photography and occasionally using field survey measurements and interpolation.

A topographic map is a series of parallel planes intersecting a shape.  The points of intersection are drawn showing the shape of the surface.

To apply this technology in photography, a source of parallel planes of light is needed. I have seen many photographs using the light and shadows of venetian blinds to wash over the subject.  However to achieve the topographic lines the bands of light need to be almost perpendicular to the form and the lines parallel to the surfaces.

To get this source of lighting, parallel lines were generated in Adobe Illustrator. Different space and line widths produced varying results.

These patterns are projected from a digital projector at right angles and parallel to the subject and adjusted for best results and focus.  The studio work at the time was figure drawings and paintings.  Photography was used to capture model images for painting.  Hence models were used for the experimentation of topographic photography.

Improved angle comes with experimentation. 2008

Developing angle and pose

Much better angle and pose for the contours.

The work has developed since this image but these samples are sufficient for the explanation of the process.  More developed images can be found on in the section of Figures.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


When drawing, the question is: what to draw?  When finding something, how much of what you see will be in the drawing?  I call this my "Torment of the Blank Page."  The most common technique is using the "finger viewer" to block out everything except the selection.

Framing the composition with your fingers.
For a closer analysis of the composition, you can make a cardboard "L".  Use several "Ls" instead of fingers.  And then to really get serious, the fixed "Ls" give a particular view that will fit on the canvas or paper.  In the fixed sample below I used a ratio which I usually like and is a standard size in paper and canvas.

This is the front of the fixed "Ls" forming a 3 x 4 ratio subdivided into equal steps.
Initially there were red strings, where marked, to locate objects within the frame precisely.

This is the other side showing the paper sizes of this ratio of 1.33 (3 x 4).
There is a mark for another standard sizes at a ratio of 1.25 (4 x 5).

While looking at the potential subject, the frame can be rotated into the horizontal position if this looks better.  It can also be moved closer or further away from the subject to crop or expand the view.  When you select the composition, visually note where the four corners of the frame viewer appear on the subject.  Now it is selected.

To compose a drawing or painting it is important to look through the viewer and not only see the object but also the source and quality of the light on the subject.  What if you move a bit to either side?  How would the shadows and light improve the subject?  What about moving on the opposite side?

So with a good composition with wonderful lighting, look closely now, not at the subject, but at the background and foreground.  What is there that will detract from the work? See any telephone poles or wires running through your subject?  Especially check where a dark subject is against a dark background.  The distinction of the two blend into one.  This is particularly true in photography where the person's hair is dark and the background is dark or visa versa. The top of the head vanishes.  If sensitive to colors and their combinations, look at alternatives as well, especially in portraiture.

Photography is also one of my areas of interest. So far, I have not discussed the subject.  We will get to photography later on. Composition is important in all fields.

Drawing, painting and photography are all primarily about seeing carefully and in specific detail.