Mike Bessler’s passion is to create enhanced photographs on canvas that will capture the awe of nature. He particularly enjoys creating and printing large images that combine his artistic vision and his technical expertise. His work has been shown at the Oakbrook Fine Art Invitational where he received a first place award. Some of his images can also be seen in the Carriage Trade Art Gallery in Long Grove, Illinois and the lobby of Edward Hospitals in Plainfield and Naperville Illinois.
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A field of brilliant red and yellow tulips dazzles visitors' eyes as they trek across the concourse at Oakbrook Center this weekend.
The image, captured on film by Bolingbrook photographer Mike Bessler, is as striking as the beds of living flowers, fountains and gardens liberally sprinkled throughout the outdoor mall.
"That's 14 exposures that I stitched together," said Bessler. "That's why I can have it all in focus."
Bessler, exhibiting at the 46th Annual Invitational Fine Art Exhibition, a show where he won Best of Show honors in 2005, said he prints many of his digital photos directly onto canvas.
"I have a printer the size of a queen-sized bed," he said.
Several of his works feature fine, detailed close-ups that invite the viewer to see the subject in novel ways. There's an eagle's face, a pink flower, a pond's shoreline turned upside-down, the image suspended inside a raindrop clinging to a dogwood branch.
The vertical motion of a waterfall is juxtaposed with the craggy lines of a cliff and the horizontal sweep of water current below in a photo taken at Starved Rock State Park.
Sometimes, Bessler said, he embellishes his photos.
"I paint on texture," he said, pointing to the purposely broad brush strokes layered onto a photograph.
An artist who also teaches his craft, Bessler said he exhibits at only one show each year.
"This is the only show I do. I like this show. It's local for me," he said.
Best Theme: Zaki Knapen —"Your Time Is Up!"
Sue Keller —"The Red Dress"
Jill Lawrence — "Necklace II"
Leon Krejci — "Second Prisoner"
Mike Bessler — "Lava Falls"
Catherine Gregory — "Nervends"
Judged by Bart Gunderson
To create this wide-angle image, Bessler took 14 different shots of the tulips, cut them into 10 36-inch square images and stitched them together.
He then printed them on canvas and created visible brush strokes on the flowers by painting them with clear acrylic. Because the photograph has so much detail, Bessler said he can print it again in any desired size.
"To me, this brings out the richness of the picture and makes it look more three-dimensional," Bessler said. "Some day -- maybe a long time from now -- I'll be able to print 3-D, but the best I can do right now is to add my texture on the outside."
For other photographs, Bessler "sculpts" them, by photographing many separate pictures of the same object and assembling them into one photograph by layering them. He used this technique with the images he took of his new pink rosebush.
"Sculpture has more depth, more shadows," he said. "Your eye just puts it all together and you don't see the spaces at all."
Bessler has shown his work at the Oak Brook Invitational and he has sold his pieces to both individuals and to corporations. Each year, he teaches photograph workshops at Starved Rock State Park in Utica.
Although both Bessler's father and uncle loved photography, Bessler said his call to the craft came at Lockport West High School (now Romeoville HS) when someone put a camera in his hands and told him to go take pictures.
"I didn't have a clue what I was doing, so I had to learn," Bessler said. "There weren't all those photography classes then." He apparently caught on fairly quickly. "I was the photographer for the 1968 yearbook. Almost all the photographs in there are mine and my friend's and we did all the layouts."
A full-time programmer and a part-time wedding photographer, the nature-loving Bessler evolved into a fine art photographer after he visited and took pictures of the Grand Canyon. He couldn't wait to get those images developed and relive that visual experience. But the resulting pictures disappointed him.
"The awe was just not there and that is when I resolved to learn how to bring home the awe," Bessler said.
He experimented first with enhancing the colors of his realistic pieces and later by creating impressionistic renderings of his images to give the feel of the original scene. Many of those images are quite large and have a sculpted feeling. Bessler now prints those images on either fine art paper or canvas.
Since he retired two years ago, Bessler has limited the number of weddings he will shoot each year to concentrate more on his fine art work. These are mostly nature pieces, especially flowers and waterfalls. The process of creating them gives Bessler immense satisfaction.
"My images are mine from the first look through the viewfinder of my camera, through the enhancing process and the printing," Bessler said. "Now I am feeling the awe."
Best of Show: Maureen McKee —"Over and Over Street"
Best Theme:Glen Hoffman —"Metal Over"
Lyn Tietz —"Rocky Coast"
Leon Krejci — "Oil/Photo" (Pictured)
Linda Evans — "Cosmic Pinball"
Bill Baykan — "Over and Over and Over"
Carol Baumrucker — "Creekside"
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A few Canon PowerShot owners must have been thinking the same thing. Lucky for the rest of us, they also write software. And the really fortunate part is they've started an open-source software project (free to use, free to modify) called the Canon Hacker's Development Kit to update PowerShots with, well, cool new features.
All you need is a PowerShot that uses a DIGIC II or DIGIC III processor and an SD card.
One of CHDK's coolest features, however, is how it works. You just load it on your memory card and activate it when you want to use it. It isn't technically a firmware update at all -- it just acts like one.
It only changes the code in the camera's memory (which disappears when you turn the power off), not the actual firmware burned into the camera's programmable memory chip. So you can't hurt the camera and you can always return the camera to its original behavior just as if nothing ever happened. Cool.
So what cool new features are we talking about? How about 1) a live histogram, 2) a battery status display, 3) a Raw file format and 4) the ability to run scripts written in a version of BASIC? For starters. There are other tweaks (like faster shutter speeds up to 1/10,000 second, depth of focus display, auto bracketing, higher compression Movie mode, long exposures up to 65 seconds, ability to use the USB port to trigger the shutter), too. More about those later.
It's all made possible by the ability of these guys to write new code for the DIGIC microprocessor in the camera.
Format an SD card in the camera to wipe it clean in a format the camera understands.
The first trick is to determine the current firmware version of your camera. There are different CHDK downloads for different cameras and firmware revisions.
To do this on a PowerShot you create an empty file called ver.req (version request) in the root directory of your SD card. There are various ways to do this but the FAQ gives (http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/FAQ) explicit instructions for Linux, Windows and Mac systems. Just make sure you don't create a text file.
Then turn on your camera in Playback mode (you can't switch to it, you have to start from it) and hold down the Set key while you press the Display key. You'll see a line like "Firmware Ver GM1E."
Once you know your model number and firmware version, visit the CHDK download page (http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/Downloads) to find the builds available for your camera. If there isn't one, you can check the Developer's page of the project to see if one's under development (http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/For_Developers).
Among the possible CHDK builds, there's a standard one with the basic features but there may also be a special build (http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/CHDK#Special_Builds) that implements extended features like syncing two PowerShots to take a stereo image (http://stereo.jpn.org/eng/sdm/index.htm) or firing the shutter when motion is detected.
Once you've found a build, download it and copy it to your memory card. There are two small files (about 110K each) to each build: PS.fir and Diskboot.bin that should be copied to the root directory of your SD card. There may be other folders and files to copy, too (hiding even more goodies like scripts).
With the card in the camera, start up in Playback mode and press the Menu button. Find the Firm Update option and confirm with the OK button. Your PowerShot will reboot.
If you get a splash screen, the firmware enhancement has been successfully loaded. If the camera hangs or does not respond to the Power button, the CHDK version isn't compatible with your camera. Just open the battery door and remove the batteries to turn the camera off, stick them back in and restart. No harm done.
You can set up the card so CHDK loads automatically any time you start the camera by using the program itself to make the card bootable and then locking the card. That won't prevent images from being stored on the card. But it only works on cards up to 2-GB in size.
To access these features, once CHDK has been loaded into memory, you have to slip into Alt mode by pressing a special key (configurable in the Alt menu), usually the Print or Shortcut key. Once in Alt mode (a small ALT tag is displayed at the bottom of the screen), press the Menu key to see what you can do.
Alt mode itself is only necessary to configure your options (but you'll want to do that; even the live histogram has lots of options), starting a script and other shortcuts.
An illustrated and comprehensive list of the functions available in CHDK is available at http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/CHDK_firmware_usage.
Here's a quick list of features (some available only in special builds):
- Raw file format. Capturing the raw data from the sensor without processing it in the camera let's you make decisions with your image editing software that are usually automated in the camera. These .CRW Raw files are not always recognized by other programs, but in a pinch you can use Adobe's free DNG Converter to change them into DNG files, which are generally supported.
- A live histogram. Based on Raw data from the sensor, the live histogram feature shows you if your highlights and shadows are properly exposed at the current shutter and aperture settings. You can use EV compensation to shift the histogram to one side or the other to improve the exposure.
- Zebra mode. In this mode, your preview will flash the shadows or highlights to indicate either insufficient or excessive exposure.
- A battery status display shows you how much power is left. Very handy as you learn about CHDK because, well, you'll be using your battery much more as you play around <g>.
- Loading a custom grid.
- The ability to run scripts written in UBASIC (see below).
- Faster shutter speeds (like 1/25,000 second).
- Long exposures (like 65 seconds).
- Depth of field calculator. When you press the Shutter button, the screen will display the depth of field and hyperfocal distance.
- Miscellaneous functions include a Calendar, Text Reader, games and more.
- Exposure bracketing. You can set both the number of shots to take and the difference in exposure between each. That lets you capture shadow detail in one, for example, midtones in the next and highlight detail in the last. Then, using any number of image editing programs, you can combine these images into one that displays a wider dynamic range than any single capture can show. You will need a tripod to do this.
- Focus bracketing. In Macro mode, depth of focus is usually very shallow. By taking a series of shots in which the focus is slightly altered, you can extend focus beyond what any single image can capture by using freeware to combine the images. You will need a tripod to do this, too.
- Higher compression Movie mode.
- Increased video recording time and length (to one hour or 2-GB).
- Interval Shooting. Take photos automatically at set intervals. Even with long exposures. You can combine the images into a time lapse video.
- The ability to use the USB port to trigger the shutter.
With CHDK running, you can automate your PowerShot with scripts written in UBASIC (http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/UBASIC). There are a number of scripts you can download (http://tools.assembla.com/chdk/browser/branches/grand/script) to do things like bracketing exposures by number of exposures and step size, focus bracketing, intervalometer, zoom and shoot, zoom video, tele-macro mode, macro DOFstacker, HDR shooting and more.
When you've found a script you want to run, download it and copy it to your card in a folder named CHDK/SCRIPTS. Then, with CHDK running, enter the script menu, load your script and set the options before leaving the menu. In Alt mode, pressing the Shutter button starts the script (just like recording in Movie mode). Pressing the Shutter button again interrupts the script.
Want to write your own scripts? No problem, just visit the UBASIC Tutorial (http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/UBASIC/TutorialScratchpad) to learn the language.
Besides the CHDK Wiki (http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/CHDK), there's a forum (http://chdk.setepontos.com/index.php) where you can discuss everything from the specifics of a release to feature requests. There are sections with help on using the stable releases, creative uses of the program, script writing and shooting and processing Raw images.
In fact, the forum isn't a bad place to start your exploration of CHDK.
Use at your own risk means just that but the CHDK site posts an interesting email from a Canon tech support rep which says, "After researching this software on the Internet it appears that CHDK doesn't make any actual changes to your camera. If you delete the CHDK software from your memory card or if you choose not to activate the CHDK software on the card (or remove and replace the batteries), then the camera will behave absolutely normally -- nothing has been (or ever is) changed, so the warranty is not affected."
That's the key point. CHDK is not firmware. It's simply software that loads into memory where the DIGIC processor can execute the code on demand.
But use it at your own risk. There are no doubt good reasons Canon itself chooses not to implement some of these features.
Of course, most of these models are probably out of warranty anyway, so the issue may be moot for you.
If nothing else, CHDK breathes new life in your old PowerShot. But it isn't just for old PowerShots, with support for a number of currently available models. By providing an architecture for extending the capabilities of your PowerShot, it can keep on breathing new life into your investment. You can even do it yourself, if you learn UBASIC. And you can't beat the price, either.
Dianne Martia has found herself mesmerized with exhumation lately.
"I'm not sure why. I've only been on archeological digs in my dreams, but it has been occupying my imagination," the Darien resident said. "I'm fascinated with finding things that belonged to another era or culture."
Local artists featured...
• Mike Bessler for the photograph "Glowing Forest"
The exhibit, which will appear at the historic Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oak Brook, will run from Friday, March 21, through Sunday, May 18, when it will culminate with a reception and award presentation. Artists, special guests and local dignitaries are invited to a special sneak preview gala Thursday, March 20.
The Alliance of Fine Art is a nonprofit professional association comprised of local artists groups including the Downers Grove Artists' Guild, Elmhurst Artists' Guild, Addison Art Guild, LaGrange Art League, Lemont Artists' Guild, Naperville Art League, West Suburban Artists' Guild and Midwest Collage Society. More than 100 pieces of watercolor, oil, photography, pottery, jewelry and mixed media will be showcased. Entries were chosen among award winners at the guild or league level, so organizers call the selections stellar.
"My piece is a composite mixed media collage," Martia said. "There's a combination of images that represent artifacts that might be found during an exhumation. There's a picture of a ring, a landscape that shows where the site might have been and a partial writing from a notebook that describes what a person found."
The ring is displayed against a ruler to appear like a specimen being measured.
"Exhumation of the Ring" received recognition at the Naperville Art League show, and a second piece, a mixed media waterscape called "The Passage," won second place at the Downers Grove Artists' Guild contest.
"None of my pieces are very literal, and I try to allow the viewer to come to their own conclusion," Martia said. "I use symbolism and ambiguity to evoke a sense of timelessness. It often raises more questions than it answers."
Nancy D'Agostino, "Best of the Best" chairperson, said the show highlights prominent notable local artists and promotes art in the suburbs.
"Generally you'd have to go to Chicago for something of this quality, so there's quite a buzz," she said. "The caliber of artists out here is phenomenal, and exhibits like this show people how much talent is in their own backyard. I think the public will really enjoy this, and all the artwork will be for sale, so it's a good chance to get something more unique than a mass-produced print."
The Alliance of Fine Art has secured Rolf Achilles, curator of the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows at Navy Pier and art history and theory professor, to judge the show.
"He's top-notch," D'Agostino said. "Critique for an artist is an important thing, and it'll be nice to have feedback from someone at his level."
According to Martia, the exhibit is a huge honor for featured artists.
"This is a big deal. It's such an opportunity," she said. "And the chances for networking are endless."
The Alliance of Fine Art supports cultural events which stress awareness, appreciation and enjoyment of quality art and contribute to community enrichment. The organization is staffed entirely of volunteer artists.
"We're running around making badges and tags, measuring the room and figuring out how to hang the show," D'Agostino said. "It's a really exciting time backstage to see this all come together."
For more information, visit www.AllianceOfFineArt.com.