Hello, and welcome. This blog will tell the story behind some of my photographs and occasionally provide news about my own work and from the world of photography. --Lisa

A guide to using photos you find on the internet

January 28, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

The internet is an astonishing marketplace of images and ideas. For visual artists, it provides opportunities for our work to be seen widely. It's unbelievably gratifying when someone leaves a comment here on my website or on my Facebook page, or buys a print of one of my photos that they've seen online. It's a thrill when a friend shares my work with her network, fulfilling the promise of social networking to extend my audience.

For working artists who create in two dimensions (painters and photographers, primarily), the pitfall is the ease with which internet users can copy or download images and use them for personal or commercial purposes.

Without getting into the complexities of copyright law (which are covered fairly well here), the fact is that unless an image is clearly marked as copyright-free, you should never make a copy without permission.

It's a common misconception that it's okay to download and publish an image as long as you credit the artist or photographer. Not so. You should always ask permission unless the photo is clearly marked as copyright-free or if it has an appropriate Creative Commons license (more on that in a few paragraphs).

Another misconception is that it's okay to download a photo for personal use (as desktop wallpaper, for instance) as long as you're not printing or redistributing it. Again, not so.

It's true that a number of people share their photos on sites like Flickr for the sheer pleasure of letting the world enjoy their work, and they will be thrilled if you ask to use their work, even if you can't pay them. A nonprofit for whom I occasionally write finds inexpensive or free images for its newsletter on Flickr. The key is that they ask the photographer for permission.

It's also true that copyright law can be unnecessarily rigid or opaque, which is where Creative Commons comes in. CC allows artists and others to choose from among six licenses that will allow flexibility as to what uses others can make of their works. For instance, I could choose a license that would allow you to download a photo for personal but not commercial use. I will be making some decisions about CC licensing in the coming year.

In case your imagination is running wild, I'm not writing this because of a negative personal experience. But there's an accumulation of stories out there about intentional and unintentional misuses of creative work (including a "wedding photographer" whose entire website consisted of images from another photographer). This post is meant to be educational and proactive, because people honestly don't always understand what they're permitted to do with artwork they find online.

Lastly, please don't take this post as discouragement for sharing an artist's work online. (See paragraph 1: we love that!) One of the best online developments is the Share button, which is not just on Facebook but on most other websites, including my own. If you'd like to share my work (or anyone else's) with your network, look for that Share button, which allows the work to be seen by others in the safe context of the artist's website. It is not a copyright violation to share in this way.

If you're looking for photos for a project (whether personal or professional), I highly recommend this article, which gives more details about copyright and also provides a list of resources for free-but-legal images.

Interested in the image above? You can find it here on my website. Please feel free to click the Share button!







March 28, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Lately, I've been working a lot with my newest camera--the one that's on my iPhone 4S. It's such a kick to use it, my SLR has been gathering dust. That has a lot to do with the apps that I can use to transform pictures.

Because I often experiment with texture overlays in my photography, using iPhone apps to create special effects comes naturally to me. And because the iPhone weighs next to nothing, it goes with me everywhere--something I can't say about the three-pound SLR. So I'm never empty-handed when impromptu photo ops present themselves.

I'm not alone in my iPhone obsession. I'm aware of a number of nationally known photographers, including Tony Sweet and John Paul Caponigro, who are shooting with smartphones. Tony has a couple of great instructional videos on using the iPhone creatively. It was from him that I learned about Iris Photo Suite, available for both IOS and Android. It's a workhorse that lets me adjust exposure and contrast as well as layer on special effects and filters. The pinhole camera effect in the lefthand photo below was achieved with Iris.

For fun, I like to explore the effects and filters in FX PhotoStudio. I used a distortion filter to turn the simple shot of spring crocuses into a modern-art fantasy.

SnapSeed is a powerful app from Nik Software, which also produces sophisticated and expensive Photoshop plugins beloved of professional photographers. At $4.99, it was by far my most expensive photography app. I used it to finetune the star anise photo on the right and to give it a vintage glow and border.

Closed for Good Crazy Posies No Two Star Anise Look Alike









What's cool to me is running the same photo through different apps to see what I can come up with. A lot of these experiments are failures--or boring--but sometimes, crazy things happen. That's how a nicely exposed but rather ordinary photo of a tree turned into this lacy alien spaceship, and a simple clay pitcher became a pop-art fantasy:

Alien Arrival Pop Pitcher









Tony Sweet says in his videos that he likes to use the iPhone and apps to create "more personal interpretations" of scenes; if he wants a "straight" shot, he uses his Nikon DSLR, which of course offers greater resolution, control over exposure, and different lens options.

But he also says, and I agree, that "it's still about the pictures. You have to get the right picture." It's true: my best iPhone images started out as nicely exposed and well-composed photos. I've learned that photos taken in dark conditions or with the really bad in-phone flash are generally hopeless. The iPhone camera excels in brightly lit settings and closeups--the phone was no more than six inches away from the crocuses and star anise pods in the photos above.

If you're interested in exploring "phone-ography," here's a list of iPhone apps from John Paul Caponigro. Many of these are also available for Android phones.

Millbrook area residents: you have until April 9 to enter the Great Millbrook Library Phonography Competition.

© 2012 Lisa M. Dellwo


Why some of my photos look sort of otherworldly

March 16, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Last Day of School Some of my photos have an unusual, almost painterly look. That's not an accident. (Except for when I feed the paper into the printer upside-down.)


It's usually the result of a process called HDR (high dynamic range) photography. HDR takes advantage of capabilities of modern digital cameras and software to produce images in which every detail--the darkest and the brightest--is correctly exposed.


Here's how that works. With the camera on a tripod, or otherwise well braced, I take five pictures that are identical except for the exposure. The first two pictures are overexposed and the last two are underexposed. The middle picture is correctly exposed.


But even a correctly exposed picture sometimes has details that are "blown out" (too bright) or lost in the shadows. In this scene, a village schoolroom in the Peruvian Amazon, the foliage seen in the upper windows was totally blown out--it was all just white--and the recesses in the red desks were in complete shadow.


Anticipating this problem, I knelt down and braced my camera on top of a third desk, and used the camera's bracketing controls to quickly snap five different exposures.


The two thumbnail pictures to the left are the most over- and underexposed of the group, and it's easy to see the loss of detail in each; standing alone, each image is unsatisfactory. But what you should notice is the presence of detail. While texture in the walls and windows is lost in the overexposed image, the insides of the cubbyholes in the desks are revealed. And the darker image to the right brings out that wall texture and some of the foliage in the windows, even if the desks are too deeply in shadow.


By using software to combine the five exposures, I coaxed out the best information from each version. If I had taken seven shots instead of five, I might have been able to tease even more information from the very bright light outside those windows.


HDR imaging is great for brightly lit scenes with lots of contrast (as you get in the midday sun) or, as in this case, for dark indoor scenes with a shot of light coming from a window. In either case, our eye can see more of the "dynamic range" of the lighting than the camera can.


Below are two more HDR images from my galleries. The first, an old barn in nearby Mabbettsville, reveals some of its interior detail in the HDR imaging. It also shows that HDR loves clouds.


The righthand picture was taken on a bright fall day, outside of Telluride, Colorado. I took only one photo, but back at my computer, I realized that the noonday sun had washed out a good deal of the color and detail. (Ideally, I would have taken this photo at a time of day when the sun wasn't so intense, but that wasn't an option.) I made four copies of the image in Lightroom and manually under- and over-exposed them to create a set for the HDR image.


All three of the images have the "other-worldly" or painterly quality that is typical of HDR imaging.

Mabbettsville Barn Rocky Mountain Ranch







Note: I use Photomatix Pro for my HDR imaging. A lot of photographers prefer the built-in HDR capabilities in Photoshop CS5.

© 2012 Lisa M. Dellwo

Glorious mistakes

March 13, 2012  •  1 Comment

Tropical Punch
My first photography instructor taught us to never admit our mistakes. "Just say 'I meant to do it this way,'" she told us. But I don't always listen. So I'm here to tell you about the flat-out mistake that turned into the image to the left.

The original photo documented pitchers of colorful tropical juices on a breakfast buffet in Peru. When I printed the image, however, I mistakenly loaded the paper wrong, and the image printed on the back rather than the emulsion side.

The photo that emerged was wildly distorted, with the pigment caked on so heavily that it took two weeks to thoroughly dry. Once I realized it was an operator error, not a printer problem, I was rather intrigued by the result; it reminded me a bit of a polaroid manipulation. I scanned it and used software to overlay a ghost of the original image to restore some structure.

The result is one of my favorite recent images, which I've titled Tropical Punch. I had a canvas print made that is hanging on my kitchen wall, and a visitor offered to buy it the day after I hung it. We're still talking.

Adapted from my March 2012 email newsletter. Click here to join my email list.

© 2012 Lisa M. Dellwo

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