Research to continue my abandoned buildings photography and video practice

Posted in My practice, Urban Exploration on August 29, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

The possibility to explore abandoned buildings in the UK is limited, because security is tighter than in Ireland. It is especially diffcult to get into them for a woman artist working on her own, and planning to spend a few hours inside (It is slightly easier for a small group of individuals to have a quick visit with just the aim of snapping a few photographs, though still a complicated expedition!). The more easily available buildings are mostly stripped down and void of artefacts, which make them visually repetitive quickly. The most visually interesting buildings are tighly locked down (the reason their interiors are in better condition in the first place!)

I have however identified an old orphanage (Silverlands Actor’s Orphanage in Surrey) whose ornamented décor would make a good fit to use in a composite video with my footage from Woodlawn House, a few asylums to continue the ‘Disciplinary Instutitions’ project, and a few abandoned cinemas that would be part of a new project. Abandoned cinemas and theatres would form a promising new project, both because of my interest in cinematic lighting and theatrical framing of my subjects in my lens-based work (as opposed to a straightforward documentary style), and because the Theatre Trust has an excellent database that helps find promising places.

I have applied for permission to shoot at the orphanage and two cinemas (the Astoria and Hippodrome both in Brighton), but the negotiations are slow and the success rate low. Unlike Ireland, there is no easily accessible directory of ‘protected structures’ in the UK, therefore there is no official organisation to systematically use as a first point of contact when trying to get in touch with the owners. The way I went about it was to contact the art services and also the planning services of the city or district council of the area where the building of interest is. If I know the exact street address of the building, I also browse recent planning applications that can be read on the website of the relevant local authority. If a planing application has been filed for the building (which is often the case for derelict buildings), it displays the name and contact details of the owner and/or the architect applying for renovation, whom can then be contacted directly.


Documentary and Architectural Photography and Video

Posted in documentary, My practice, Photography, Professional Development, Video on August 29, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

I have added to my website a section of documentary and architectural photography and video, separate from my ‘fine art photography’ projects. This section is not complete yet and each project contain only a few photographs so far. It contains 3 types of photographs:

1) Outtakes from my ‘Ghost House’and ‘Disciplinary Institutions’ projects, that show the buildings in a documentary way, but do not have enough aesthetic value to qualify as ‘art’. The difference may not be obvious for anyone but me, but in my main series, the focus is on the creative subjective viewpoint, whereas on those documentary outtakes, the focus is solely on representing the building and my creative input as a photographer is limited to just taking a clear photograph.

2) Photography of building of architectural and/or historical interest.

3) Documentary Photography of Raw Art environments.

In both these last cases, the places are interesting by themselves and the purpose of the photograph is solely to show their architectural features in a clear way, the focus is not on a subjective treatment of them.

I added these sections because, after reading Architectural Photography by Adrian Schulz, I thought that Architectural photography could be a promising way to start taking commercial contracts. I would like to develop this documentary/architectural section as a portfolio showcasing a commercial practice, as opposed to my fine art practice.

On September 5th, I will shoot photographs and a video inside Ketlle Yard’s House in Cambridge. This is a house that used to belong to art collectors and has been turned into a museum, but the artworks are displayed as though it was still a private art lover’s dwelling. I am interested in this space because of the unique way the former owners transformed a functional dwelling into a medium of self expression, as though they remodelled a physical space to be a projection of their inner world, filling it with art representative of their time and the interests of the bohemian social circle they were part of.

When this is done, I will display the photographs and video on my website. Something I would interesting in doing commercially would be to take photographs and videos for interior design companies and publications, and for cultural places and historical monuments, so I decided to try and find interesting buildings to train myself on as unpaid projects first.

Experiment with HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photography

Posted in Photography, Photography techniques with tags , on August 29, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

I experimented with combining a series of 5 photographs identically framed but differently exposed photographs into a HDR picture. I wanted to try HDR for a long time, but I usually use shadows in a creative way in my photographs, and had to wait until I came accross a scene where the shadows and highlights were being annoying rather than interesting.

Exposed at -2

Exposed at -1

Exposed for midtones

Exposed at +1

Exposed at +2

Resulting HDR image.

I tone-mapped the HDR image using a photorealistic preset (as opposed to a high contrast image) then adjusted the curve manually. However, I found the image bland because of the even lighting, even though I do understand the use of it for a documentary picture where the focus should be on clear details throughout. I am used to dramatic shadows in my photographs and started to adjust the curve further, until I realised that I was trying to darken the silhouette of the staircase again, effectively removing the whole purpose of the HDR processing!

Therefore I decided that HDR was not an appropriate creative choice for this particular image, and started again a regular digital post-processing from the image exposed for the midtones.

In Adobe Camera Raw:
– Fill Light: 50 to get the green wall lighter.
– Brightness: +9 to slightly lighten the whole image
– Blacks: +16 to selectively darken the deep shadows.
– Contrast: +25
– Saturation: +8 to make the paint on the wall more vibrant.

Then in Photoshop:
– Selective Brightness and Contrast Correction Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights. Slightly subdue the highlights on the lit wall: Amount 6% tonal Width 30%. Midtones Contrast -8 so that the green wall appears slightly lighter.
– Reduce Noise.
– No sharpening because it wrecked the ‘fuzzy light’ effect.

The resulting image.

Post-processing and enhancement of photographs (practical examples)

Posted in Disciplinary Institutions, Ghost House, My practice, Photography, Photography techniques on August 29, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

I have applied the post-processing workflow detailed in the tutorial I wrote to the photographs from my ‘Ghost House’ and ‘Disciplinary Institutions’ series.

Most pictures required little adjustments because I took care to expose them correctly. I discovered that my favourite tools to do slight exposure adjustments were either manually adjusting the curve, or doing selective Brightness and Contrast Correction via Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights.

I did some saturation adjustments to some pictures, either on the whole picture or sometimes for a specific colour channel to bring out a specific detail from the composition. For example, for ‘Cellar Door 1’, I brought the saturation up +16 for Yellow and +18 for green. The effect is more over the top than what I usually go for but because this picture is retro-kitsch on purpose, it’s an appropriate choice.



I also straightened the geometry of the corridor shots from the asylums when my tripod was crooked due to uneven floors.



I used light denoising on all pictures. I also use smart sharpening on most pictures, but not on any picture featuring reflections in mirrors, dew on a window or a diffuse, fuzzy light, because sharpening destroyed any of these interesting effects.

I will now detail the workflow I used on the 3 photographs that required the heaviest processing. On most other photographs I processed, while the processing improves print quality, the adjustments are too slight to be noticeable in web quality.

Ghost House III.1


I redid the whole picure after realising that the ‘Dust and scratches’ filter blurred the image rather than really denoise it though it turned out not to make a huge difference on that photograph.

-Lens Correction.
-Selective Brightness and Contrast Correction Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights. Corrected blown highlights: Amount 60%, Tonal Width 30%, Radius 30px. Midtones contrast +15%.
-Saturation +10.
-Reduce Noise, Despeckle.
-Smart sharpen Amount 50% Radius 5 pixels.


Ghost House III.11


-Lens Correction.
-Selective Brightness and Contrast Correction Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights. Corrected too dark shadows: Amount 15%, Tonal Width 30%, Radius 30px. Corrected blown highlights: Amount 19%, Tonal Width 30%, Radius 30px. Midtones Contrast +19%.
-Saturation +20.
-Reduce Noise, Despeckle.
-Smart sharpen Amount 50% Radius 5 pixels.




-Lens correction.
-Levels: burn highlights on purpose, they’re just the window.
-Selective Brightness and Contrast Correction Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights. Burn highlights some more: Amount 100% tonal Width 16%.
Manual Curves.
-Saturation -49 (slightly tinted monochrome)
-Reduce Noise.
-Smart sharpen Amount 50% Radius 5 pixels.


Repeat similar process with similar picture differently exposed for trial.


-Lens correction.
-Selective Brightness and Contrast Correction Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights. Burn highlights: Amount 100% tonal Width 50%. Lighten shadows: Amount 29% Tonal Width 30%
Manual Curves.
-Saturation -27 (slightly tinted monochrome)
-Reduce Noise.
-Smart sharpen Amount 50% Radius 5 pixels.

The result is similar but there is less glare on the wall. I suspect this is due to the original picture, not the processing. I chose this version for printing.


Technical Tutorial: Digital Photograph Post-Processing Workflow (in Photoshop)

Posted in Photography, Photography techniques on August 28, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

In this tutorial, I have compiled technical tips from two reference books: Digital Exposure Handbook by Ross Hoddinott and Architectural Photography by Adrian Schulz.

This example Workflow is biased towards applications for architectural and interior photography. It’s mostly reusable for general photograph enhancement, but it covers subjects such as perspective corrections, but not skin tone optimisation for example. This is stricly photoshop for photographers and photography enhancement, from RAW conversion to correcting incorrectly exposed or noisy photographs, it does not cover at all how to create designs from several source images.

photography post-processing tutorial in pdf

Woodlawn House short video

Posted in My practice, Urban Exploration, Video with tags , , on August 28, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

I’ve edited a very short video (1 min 30 sec) from footage shot at Woodlawn House, co. Galway, Ireland. It is an abandoned mansion with striking interior decoration such as grand staircase, mirrors and ornate ceilings, although it has been emptied of everything else for renovation. Its heavily ornamented décor reminded me of the hotel from Last Year in Marienbad, if it had been abandoned, and I tried to replicate the long tracking shots from the film.

I have an old harmonium and wanted to find a musician to improvise on it (I’m a total beginner and just occasionally have fun with it) to get the type of disjointed organ music from the Marienbad soundtrack, but I did not find anyone suitable, so I had to use some ambient music from Edge Effect who makes all my soundtrack instead. I chose a piece with a loose and fluid structure to try and replicate the feeling of ambiguous space with the music coming from no discernible direction characteristic of the Marienbad soundtrack.

I had about 30 min of footage and could only manage to make a 1 min 30 video out of it, the rest was either too similar or not very interesting visually. My ‘Ghost House’ and ‘Disciplinary Institutions’ videos (5min and 6min 50 respectively) are both composite from footage shot at various places. I would like to find more places similar to Woodlawn, abandoned places with a posh, ornamented decor, but rather clean and empty, where I could shoot more footage to make a longer composite videos, but such places are difficult to find.

My website is up!

Posted in My practice with tags , on August 22, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

My website is up!

It has videos and statements, but no photographs yet. I will add them this week.

I’m trying to push it up google search results so maybe linking it from this blog will help 🙂