Robert Atkins  

Through the Wardrobe by Robert Atkins

September 2023 - Through the Wardrobe

About the Image(s)

I am just back from another trip to Mt. Rainier. Apparently, the photography experience last year was amazing enough to lure me once more into a week of sleeping on the ground in a tent. I’d say this year was even better (not the tent part). I shot digital this time, vs. my usual 4x5 film, so that I might more greatly experiment. Indeed, it let me think more deeply about what I felt setting up a composition, and less about exposure calculations. I believe it has led to images with better stories beyond “gee that looks pretty”. But despite reading a healthy amount of Guy Tal in my downtime, I admit being in a state of still figuring out what that really means. And I think I could use help understanding whether what I saw and felt “ the story to me “ comes across (or perhaps whether that even matters). So, I will ask that question here and probably again in the coming months. It might be helpful to stop reading here, think about the image, and then read my reveal of the story as I see it.

This image, “Through the Wardrobe”, was inspired by a childlike desire to escape to a better place; to leave real life worries behind and find a better place “perhaps only a moment, but one more in tune with the good and with what could be vs. what is. The photo was taken at a seemingly unremarkable location, along the trail to and extending beyond the still closed Grove of the Patriarchs. The backlit trees across the river (the river cannot be seen here) set against the cool shadows of the hills behind struck me as fairy like, and the framing by the nearby trees completed the feeling of journeying through the wardrobe to Narnia.

I am not sure if those feelings will come across in the image to others without that prose guidance “ that is in essence my question. Of course, if there are processing ideas that would further enhance that feeling (or correct whatever other mistakes I’ve made), those ideas would be welcome.

Sony a9, Zeiss Loxia 85mm 2.4, f11, focus blend & two exposure blend (1/5 sec & 1/25 sec), ISO 100

11 comments posted

Dan Mottaz   Dan Mottaz
It's good to see you back, Robert. Your images and reviews contribute to my growth as a photographer.

You have made it difficult for me to offer an objective review when your description links your image to profound childhood memories. In other words, who am I to offer a critique that is based on something so personal. The composition, image quality and manner of execution seem irrelevant to a meaningful memory. 'More Than A Rock' by Guy Tal talks about personal expression over everything else in the pursuit of art - that's what this image is.
So what can I offer, now that I've read your description? Otherwise, I would have never known the feeling you experienced during this capture.

Were you successful? I will never know.
  Posted: 09/07/2023 10:45:07
Robert Atkins   Robert Atkins
Thanks Dan. I admit I am still working to unpack all your comments. Having now read "More than a Rock" I appreciate Tal's view (which I believe I am not assuming too much to conclude you strongly share) that personal expression trumps pretty much all else. Of course, the "anti-Tal" part of me is still reading between your lines looking for the review.

I don't really feel competent to paraphrase Tal's position, and doing so anyways I will surely overstate it. But he and others seem to convey an either-or debate. At one end all that matters is one's own view; that is the personal expression rules end. At the other end, what matters is the opinion of others; that is the beholden to Instagram likes and dislikes end. Of the two options, I agree with Tal that the place to be is the former - the masses be damned, make images that make your own heart sing. But that might not be the right end for the beginning novice. Knowing little, it is perhaps far more important to receive the feedback of external reviews - even ones (e.g., Instagram) which might not be particularly enlightened.

The real problem then is for neither the master with the experience, confidence, etc. to listen only to their own heart, nor the novice who is better served integrating and averaging the opinions of others as they rapidly learn. The real problem - the one with which I struggle practically and philosophically - is the in-between. The middle is messy. How much do you trust your heart? How much do you listen to others? Do you work only where you can satisfy both? What is the path to get better most rapidly? What does getting better even mean?

I don't know if this is the best or even an appropriate forum for such philosophical discussions. But I feel such discussion is important to my growth as a photographer. So I appreciate you opening the can of worms and letting me at least frame the problem.
  Posted: 09/13/2023 20:20:56
Dan Mottaz   Dan Mottaz
Hey Robert, you are so gifted in putting your thoughts into words.
You amplified my thoughts perfectly. It's a tough dilemma where we struggle for either praise and likes or image making for ourselves. Is there a middle? For me, I jump back and forth.
Thanks for not taking my review of your photo wrong. I believe honest critiques should be more than is the shot in focus or under exposed. Our reviews should also occasionally include what was in the photographer's head.   Posted: 09/14/2023 09:06:33

Haru Nagasaki   Haru Nagasaki
Hi Robert,
Thank you for sharing.
A couple of points which prevent me from feeling your expectation. Please bear with me for a moment. I will try to explain and hope my points will make sense to you.
1. My eyes will not be guided well to the center of attention. When I see it in thumbnail, my eyes catches strong details of the prickling branches (as well as strong light and shadow).
2. The center of attention to express "better place to be (as described)" does not convey the mood of "romantic fantasy" or "heart-warming" so much. I presume it is because the contrast/clarity looks the same as other part, although it is brighter. I would try to reduce the clarity or increase haziness trying to produce "dreamy" feeling. My eyes need a bit clearer distiction of "reality" vs "better place to be".
3. Overall impression after seeing the image is "gloomy". The feeling of hope hinted by the center of attention is offsetted by the framing trees. Especially the big tree on right. It has huge presence in the image and it dominates the impression of the image. It is dark and thick, so it is overwhelming for me. I guess it overpowers the feeling of hope.
As always, my comments might be irrelevant though.   Posted: 09/12/2023 02:39:58
Robert Atkins   Robert Atkins
Hi Hara. Thank you for the comments which are very helpful. I am curious on the first point - that your eyes go to the branches - which ones is that? Is it the branches on the far right edge? Or somewhere else?

On your second point, I did play around with a softer look, but it quickly seemed like it was looking "out of focus". Maybe I pushed too hard with the softness as it were. But your point that there is not enough differentiation with the rest of the frame is well taken. I am wondering if I can maybe warm it up (or cool the rest down) to try to otherwise get the separation. I will experiment.

I love your third point, which I think is saying that the small window may feel hopeful, but that it is overwhelmed by the dark gloomy feeling which surrounds - particularly the large tree. EXACTLY! That is what I am after. The foreground is the gloomy real world, while the door through to the magic world shows a glimpse of hope. The two are in tension. The fact that overall it comes out "gloomy" further emphasizes how hard it is to find that small way through to the magical land. You've given me hope that it might actually be possible to convey such a complex message and have some people hear it. THANK YOU!

  Posted: 09/13/2023 18:59:34
Haru Nagasaki   Haru Nagasaki
Hi Robert,
I meant the branches on the far right edge in the first point.   Posted: 09/13/2023 19:09:16

Bob Wills   Bob Wills
Hi Robert. I don't know the Narnia stories, but I can see the frame well enough. The sharpness and color are terrific. I think there may be a green color cast, but that is our Pacific NW forests! I tried a new Diamond gradient in PS to darken the frame and spotlight the view. Just technical stuff from me as usual. Well-made image.
(Cont.) your image has the whimsical and adolescent mood you were trying to convey. (For some reason, my comment disappeared before posting and I had to rewrite it and my memory ain't what it used to be!)   Posted: 09/12/2023 10:55:03
Comment Image
Robert Atkins   Robert Atkins
Thanks Bob. I printed this one before posting, and of course had to adjust a bit for the print. The net result was that the print end up a little darker (the foreground) - not quite as far as you've gone, but a bit. I like that better, and I think that helps focus the viewer (my eye at least) through the "door".

I don't know what a Diamond gradient is. I will have to look that one up.
  Posted: 09/13/2023 18:43:49
Bob Wills   Bob Wills
In Properties on the gradient or gradient map (Which I now use more) There are 4 icons to change the type of gradient. The angle gradient must be for Design, as I haven't found a use for it in photographs unless you are Picasso. Linear, Radial and Diamond have all been simplified in 2023 and 2024. Once you have the layer you can just click on different gradients or click Randomize. Ctrl + F will bring up Adobe tutorials and explanations right in the image!   Posted: 09/14/2023 07:20:15

Gloria Grandolini   Gloria Grandolini
Hi Robert, I am more and more drawn to the option of "image plus text". In some cases it does help to understand better the image through the eyes of the author. In your case maybe cropping the image to have the 2 trees (or part of them) frame the passageway" could help. Also it would I think focus ones eyes on the light beyond the darkness.   Posted: 09/15/2023 16:19:47
Robert Atkins   Robert Atkins
Thanks Gloria. Yes, I believe words accompanying the photo help a lot. But I think the pinnacle achievement so to speak is being able to communicate the story without the prose. Certainly a work in progress for me.

I agree with you that some crop could help. Looking at the print I made which is sitting with a mat frame over it, I'm realizing the mat is covering part of the right edge (outside of the big tree). I think even that amount of crop makes a big difference.   Posted: 09/16/2023 06:42:05


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