Spectrum Suite

A Photographic Series In Three Movements

By Larry Vogel Back to


I have always viewed myself as an artist who uses a camera, rather than a photographer. Over the last several years I have made many changes in the way I approach photography. In the past, I spent many years traveling the country with a 4×5 view camera and photographed the landscape with black and white film. I believed then that this was what I would do with the camera the rest ofmylife.ThenonedayIcametoanew conclusion and challenged myself to break out of the box I had placed myself in. I began to view my approach to photography with a new insight and began to work with a new format, working within the context of projects. Each new project would have a beginning, middle and an end.

This new working format meant that I would no longer remain in a fixed position. I was open to explore the world of photography and art with the wide-eyed wonder of what if. I once heard another artist proclaim, “My diversity may become my claim to obscurity.” Sometimes I feel that way too. However, the ability to continually re-invent myself through creative exploration grants me an artistic life filled with endless possibilities.

My Spectrum Suite series is one such exploration. It all began as a single photographic project, but has grown over the past several years to include what I have called A Photographic Series in Three Movements. The Spectrum Suite was conceived as a project title because of the many colors employed in the series. When the colorful images are viewed in their context of three joined projects, they flow and blend with the rhythm of a musical composition, in a suite of colorful notes.

Spectrum Suite #116

This series began as a simple photographic adventure. My intention was to create a project that would examine and explore three basic elements of art: form, texture and color. My equipment for this project was a Sinar 4×5 view camera and Broncolor studio strobes.

The First Movement of the Spectrum Suite series uses Left

flat angular rocks I gathered from landscape supply yards. The strong angular shapes of the rocks provided me with the first of the three elements: form. To create the second element, texture, I used strong side lighting fitted with parabolic reflectors and color gels. The reflectors I used produced a hard edge lighting effect which exaggerated the surface textures of the rocks. One studio strobe, with a warming filter, was set to one side of the rock, which would light the front surface with warm light and leave the opposite side in shadow.

The third and final element, color, was achieved with a second studio strobe fitted with a strong color gel filter. This second light was set to the opposite side of the first main light, which filled the shadowed edge of the rock with strong beautiful color.

To produce the blackest background possible, I used a black suede cloth, similar to velvet. My idea was to have the rock appear sculptural in the final imagesmore like an object being photographed, rather than an abstract image of the rock.

The images were all shot with a 4×5 view camera and color transparency film. Using the 4×5 camera gave me the ability to get in close and reveal the texture and graphic shapes of the rocks. In some cases the camera bellows are extended to near maximum to achieve the desired close-up. I chose the 4×5 format because I knew I wanted to make the final prints very large. After processing, the film was scanned and color corrected in Photoshop.

None of the color effects in this first series were added digitally.

Spectrum Suite #212

Movement Two of the Spectrum Suite series became an extension of the First Movement with its primary elements: form, texture and color. This time the form is more fluid and less angular. The subject material and fluid shapes are pieces of eucalyptus bark. In this Second Movement the texture is still elemental but subtle, due to the smooth surface of the bark. The color and lighting are more dramatic than we see in the first series.

The set-up for the Second Movement is identical to the one used in the First Movement, with the exception of the filtered lights. This time I used two strong color filtered gels on the reflector strobes. The filtered lights are set up on opposite sides of the eucalyptus bark in such a way to light the bark and fill the shadows with two strong colors. In some images, there is a third color which appears when the two filtered lights blend together on the surface of the bark. The same camera, film, scanner and Photoshop color corrections were used to pro- duce the images in the second series. Once again, all colors and effects are produced in camera and on film.

The Third Movement in the Spectrum Suite series represents a radical departure in the techniques I used to produce the first two movements. However, I held to the original premise of the first two movements: form, texture and color. Rather than using a camera and film to record the images, I used a flatbed scanner and relied heavily on digital technology to achieve the final images.

Spectrum Suite #213

I began by collecting 12×12 inch slate tiles from local hardware and flooring stores. The slate tiles were placed directly on a flatbed scanner and scanned to produce very detailed, high resolution files. This time, the form comes from the organic shapes present in the surface of the slate. I looked through hundreds of slate pieces to find the most interesting designs and shapes in the tiles. I have always felt the organic shapes of nature can provide the best inspiration for design.

The texture in the slate images is partially from the existing surface textures, but the textures have also been exaggerated by the sharp, high resolution scans and digital process. Because I used a scanner, no specific lighting techniques were employed to photograph the image. Compared to a camera, the scanner has very little depth of field. However, the scanner does a great job recording the slate tiles’ smallest details because the tile has a very shallow surface depth.

The color is the result of many Photoshop techniques. The organic designs on the surfaces of the tiles were highly manipulated in Photoshop to obtain the resulting colors and details. Most of the colors in the final images were nonexistent, or barely visible. I equate this part of the process to a “paint by numbers” approach. The shapes and designs are manipulated with multiple masking techniques, color fill layers and layer blend modes in Photoshop, which transforms the pieces from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

The Spectrum Suite images are all digital inkjet prints. The digital printing process has made possible the presentation of work in many unique ways. I am currently using an Epson 9800 for all of my inkjet printing. For quite some time, I have wanted to get my photographs out from behind the glass of traditional framing. When I first decided to print this series of photographs, I wanted to make them large. Recently, some of the Spectrum Suite images were printed for an exhibition, and the images for that show were printed in sizes up to 38″x54″.

Because I wanted to eliminate the glass from the framing process, I needed to print the images on a material that would be durable. I chose to print them on canvas and coat them with a polymer varnish specially formulated for inkjet canvas. The varnish is applied to the canvas with a commercial spray gun and air compressor. I applied several coats to insure a durable print surface. The canvas is stretched and stapled onto heavy-duty stretcher bars. For the final presentation, I chose a black metal edged floater frame designed for framing canvas.

The final images and their presentation are very contemporary. Using these same materials and techniques, I have produced photographs up to 10 feet widesomething I would have thought impossible back in my old darkroom days.

Spectrum Suite #310

Product Resources: Film: color transparency film, 4×5 Kodak Ektachrome 100 Plus; Scanner: Epson Perfection 2450 Photo Flatbed Scanner; Canvas: Breathing Color Canvas; Printer: Epson 9800 with UltraChrome K3 inks; polymer varnish, Breathing Color Glamour 2 Veneer Varnish.

About the Author

Larry Vogel
Larry Vogel describes himself as an artist who uses the medium of photography, as well as sculpture, painting and ceramics. He has exhibited his work for 25 years in venues that include California and New Mexico. He teaches Photoshop seminars in his studio in Oceanside,CA and is the author of Creativity/ the Seeker’s Journey, available on his website http://www.lavogel.com.