Showcasing photography during the The Exposure Photography Festival is a first time for Stephen Dolha is involved or published in any of these venues or mediums
A typical landscape has a lot of complex elements that come together in a way to create a coordinated whole that pulls at our senses. He has always been drawn to the “landscapes in the small” that exist in flowers. However, there is one key difference when capturing these flower landscapes – moving a camera in close means that it is impossible to keep it in focus with a single image without compromising the image quality – even stopping down the f-stop to gain increased depth of focus is not sufficient. This is where digital technology provides an answer using “focus stacking”. Stephen tells us “This is a technique that allows me to take multiple images with each image capturing a part of the flower in focus and then stacking those images together resulting in a single image with every part of the flower in focus. It can take anywhere between 75 and 300 images to accomplish this.”
“The images I’m displaying at the Exposure Festival capture these “landscapes in the small” that are present in flowers using this “focus stacking” techniques. In my mind, it is like the control that a painter must decide what is in focus in their paintings. In fact, people have responded that my flower photographs using this technique look like paintings.”
When he prints these images, he chooses to use matte paper to enhance that painterly look, even though that compromises some of the detail. It is this combination of extreme depth of focus and print softness that he strives to achieve with these images.
This collection of photographs was created with a Nikon D800E full frame digital camera with a Sigma 150mm macro lens.
While primarily using digital photography now, he had spent many years doing analog photography and believes these techniques have contributed to the attention to achieving technical excellence and a more thoroughly understanding of the craft and art of photography, attributing to paying attention to what is in the viewfinder and pre visualizing the final image and understanding the importance of the print in the creative process.
As Ansel Adam had so aptly taught, “The Negative is the score and the Print is the performance” and this analog lesson remains true in digital photography. In many ways, being forced to learn to cope with the limitations of analogue photography ensures that the ease with which one can capture unlimited digital images does not result in sloppy or lazy technique.
So, in that sense, Stephen feels that the aspects of analog photography are important as he has shifted his preference to digital. “It’s about being critical of what you see in the viewfinder and understanding the realities of capturing light and composing images” he tells us.
“Having said that, what digital does for me is add capabilities that are simply not possible with analog photography – specifically HDR and Focus Stacking. And the ability to review the images immediately and adjust to ensure the desired outcome is achieved.” These techniques allow him to increase the control of range and focus that can be captured. “The prevalence of digital images in our world also means that one must continually push the boundaries of the photographs I take and I find that challenge extremely motivating. So, in the end, it is the combination of analog and digital photography that has brought me to this point in my photographic journey, so it’s not so much about which do I prefer, but more about giving each it’s due for the contribution each has made to my photographic abilities.”
Stephen discovered photography in junior high school (grade 9) when he took a photography course and learned how to develop film and photographs in the school darkroom. “When I saw the first black and white images appear in the developing tray I was hooked” he says, “My dad helped me build a small 5’x7’ darkroom in the basement of our house where I could do my photography. Then once I discovered the amazing work of Ansel Adams and spent many hours learning and calibrating to use his zone system techniques with my Black and White photography I knew this would be a lifelong commitment.”
Being strongly inspired by the black and white landscape work of Ansel Adams, Stephen became motivated to capture the beauty of the world we live in in both Black and White and Colour photographs. “I have a strong affinity for visual patterns and how light delivers and enhances those patterns which is why the qualities of Black and White photography were such an early draw. It is this enjoyment in patterns in the natural work which continues to motivate me whenever I study a subject.”
His Dad was a guitarist and taught him the instrument in his early childhood and Stephen went onto learning to play classical guitar during his teens.
“My parents bought me my first camera as a Christmas present when they saw how much I was enjoying photography at school. It was a USSR built 35mm film camera called the Zenit E that my Mom found at McBain Camera store in Edmonton.”
Other than taking photography classes in junior and senior high school, I’m primarily self-taught.
Stephen used Photoshop for many years when it was really the only choice for digital photography and he admits it is certainly very capable even today but he tell us that today there are other choices that offer as much and in some cases more capability so it is no longer the only choice that digital photographers have at their disposal.
“My belief is to use the tools to the advantage for which they are designed and in a manner that streamlines one’s photographic workflow to achieve the highest quality image. If that includes Photoshop then certainly include Photoshop in your workflow. I still have a version of Photoshop 5 that I’ll use on occasion but I primarily use other software products (DxO, Affinity Photo, Helicon Focus, Aurora HDR and Lightroom) that I combine in my workflow to provide me with the capabilities I need to create my photographs. In the end, I believe that software is like any tool, it requires a commitment to learning it and become an adept user and is valuable if it contributes to the outcomes you are seeking in your photography.”
Stephen has a humble nature and when asked what his most proud of in his photographic journey he said the best way to answer is that he is proud of his technical skills with both film and digital photography, he also uses his woodworking skills to create solid wood frames that augment the display of his photographs and the photographic vision that he has honed over the years, as well as the ability to translate that vision into his work photographs – especially his most recent flower photographs.
He continues his pursue to photograph flowers, pushing the boundaries by getting closer in and seeking more abstraction in hid flower photographs.