Composing a photograph includes eliminating the irrelevant   

 

 

 

 

Years ago the Hasselblad camera company published a series of photography pamphlets. While I had my Hasselblad I collected and studied the information contained in them.

Recently I thumbed through one titled “The Eye, The Camera, The Image”.  Although meant for medium format film cameras it’s filled with information that is still appropriate for digital camera users.

I skimmed over topics like Using the focusing hood magnifier, Colour film and colour balance, Types of exposure measurement, Double exposure and Polaroid film, all are interesting reads if one is concerned with photographic history, however, not practical or useful for those searching to be a better photographer in our modern digital age.

However the topic, “We see far to much” caught my attention and it said,

“The eye is our organ of sight. It’s lens has a focal length of about 17mm and covers a 150-degree vertical and 120 degree horizontal field; the binocular vision provided by our two eyes gives a 180-degree angular field. We seldom have any need for images encompassing so wide a field. The wealth of detail in such a field would be rendered small and insignificant when reduced to images formed in a camera when composing a photograph outdoors or elsewhere. We always need to crop our field of view.”

In my experience, most successful photographers want to “tighten up” on their composition, by that; I mean they only include those elements that add to the visual discussion of a photograph. Beginners are apt to aim with only the excitement of their subject in mind and don’t pay attention to other additional features captured by the sensor.

Photographers printing or posting their photos are surprised when they look and find a picture filled with irrelevant and disruptive items they wished they hadn’t included.

Hasselblad continues, “This elimination of irrelevance is vital. The trick often involves excluding most of what you see. Making a selection is a basic feature of all art, whether it is painting, drawing or photography. Art consists of picking out the most interesting, most illustrative, most instructive, the loveliest or most emotional components among a myriad of components in a subject.”

Photographers should train themselves to be specific with a subject, only showing the viewer what is important. How do we slow down to do this in an age of auto focus, auto aperture and rapid-fire shutter release? I have an easy answer – get a good tripod!

I know many photographers have never owned or used a tripod and some have only experienced rickety, inexpensive models. Using a sturdy, well-made tripod makes one slow down and pay attention to the subject in the viewfinder or LCD. In addition, the process of setting up the tripod and attaching a camera gives photographers time to think about composition.

I agree with Hasselblad’s contention that “we see far to much” and need to eliminate irrelevant items in our photos.

When an interesting subject is seen, stop the car and get out. Don’t be lazy and merely hunker down against the window to take the shot. Get that sturdy tripod out of the trunk; and as you do that think about, or “previsualize”, the photograph about to be made.

Set up the tripod, attach the camera and look through the viewfinder. I suggest making several shots starting from a narrow, limited view and zooming the lens out to a wide-angle view. That way there will be several choices for that picture.

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To sum up, eliminate those elements inconsequential to the picture and compose for only those items important to the final photograph, not by looking at the subject and snapping away in a hurried fashion to include everything seen in the viewfinder, and take my advice, use a tripod.

Another evening of photographing along the river.    

Days like today remind me why forty plus years ago I chose to build my home in the hills of Pritchard.

The end of March sun has melted most of the snow and there was a slow warming that drew me to again, on a cool evening to one of my favourite places to wander; the barren Thompson River shore just minutes from my woodsy.

I set my camera bag on the car seat drove down into the river valley, crossed the wide river bridge, parked my car, and walked out on the river beach. I had to be careful where I stepped or I would be ankle deep in mud.

I like the river in the winter and early spring. The water is still low and its always fun to photograph rocks, broken clam shells, sunken posts, and all sorts of treasures that very soon will be covered with several feet of water.

I usually have a winter walk, but I guess I was lazy; this would be my first 2018 sojourn along the wet sand.

There is always a lot to photograph if one likes to get into the hunt. I look for stumps that were dragged along in the fast high fall water that now have become sculptural features. I like the sparkling late afternoon sun as it colours a long forgotten post sunk deep in the sand. And there’s so many of fresh water clamshells, now without life, that are always worth getting a wet knee while in search of a creative angle.

Soon the beach under the bridge will be under water and people with their excited dogs will be running everywhere. There will be boats lined along the bank and lots of trucks and trailers parked. Yep, in no time the small park will be filled with enthusiastic people enjoying themselves.

However, for me, it’s the enjoyment of a quiet peaceful walk with my camera.

I had decided to use my tiny little mirrorless Nikon V this afternoon. The small one-inch sensor doesn’t have the enlargement quality that my huge 36mp full frame camera has, I have two lenses for it and it is capable of Manual mode and shoots in RAW format.  And for the Internet and the occasional 8X10 print it’s perfect.

I call it my grandpa camera because I purchased it for those times when I go for high energy walks with my two granddaughters. At nine and eleven, “high energy” is the correct word and that pocket able little camera is convenient for the kind of animated photography I always seem to be doing when they are around.

The river beach on the late afternoon was beautiful. I know there are several serious photographers that also live in Pritchard, but I never see them wandering the beach. I sometimes think I should call them all and invite them down to my private winter beach. Well, private spring beach might be more correct at this point. I did send my friend Jo a text message hoping she had time to get her camera and join me. Heck, she only lives a couple streets away from the river.

I have often written about doing photography with another photographer, and I hope readers are fortunate enough to have like-minded camera owning friends.

I know this summer will be filled with excursions to distant visually interesting locations. We all yearn to for those away from home trips to recharge our fascination with this exciting medium. However, in my opinion, it would be such a waste not to photograph the wondrous world just outside our front door. I have met photographers that tell me they can’t find anything interesting around their home or town. They will say, “It’s all so familiar and boring.”

I doubt anyone will ever hear me say that.

Leading another class on photography         

The first class I ever taught on photography was sometime back in 1976. I think.

I had just moved from Los Angeles to Kamloops, British Columbia and a coordinator from the local Parks and Recreation Association asked me if I would teach a class for beginning photographers.

He had talked to some friends and found out that I had worked as a photographer for the Los Angeles office of Education and also spent time teaching grade school age children in private schools, so he thought I would be a perfect fit in their community education program.

I always liked sharing my knowledge of photography with those that, like me, were excited about this exciting medium and always enjoyed hanging out with other photographers. I had trained to teach grade school, but I wasn’t sure about adults.

Well, here I am all these years later. Gosh, 1976 seems so darned long ago. And I have shared my knowledge with so many people. I taught classes all over the province and was even employed as a college photography instructor for many, many years. So when a friend’s mother; who works for the Ashcroft community association asked me get up early on a Sunday morning and travel two hours to teach a photo class to fifteen eager photographers, lazy as I am, I couldn’t say no.

I designed the sessions I lead for busy adult beginning photographers that have lots of other stuff on their plate. I break my presentations into four separate headings that allow me to add information as I go along. I begin with Modes and give participants my opinion as to why they should only use and how to use, Shutter priority, Aperture priority and Manual modes. The terminology varies with different manufactures, but the discussion is the same. I can then easily plug in all sorts of tips and directions regarding their camera menus without loosing track of our exploration of Modes.

Naturally my next heading is Understanding Exposure, how could it not be after examining their camera’s Modes. Then as they scribble notes on the handouts I have given them I turn on my projector and begin my talk about Depth of Field.

Depth of field is, “that area in front of and behind the subject that is acceptably sharp”. Treating DOF as a main topic helps to show learners how the Aperture and Shutterspeed have a use other than just choosing a way to make sure their image isn’t under or over exposed.

Finally, and my favourite discussion of the day, I present Composition. The word composition gets thrown around a lot. I’ll read forums where members might say something like, “great capture, good composition,” or sometimes, something as meaningless as “I love your composition”.

I know they don’t actually mean composition as a photographic technique. I think it’s become an alternative word that means, “Picture”. They want a more modern word, and I suppose using the word “composition” instead of “picture” has sadly and ignorantly become that word.

Photographic composition is defined as, “the selection and arrangement of subjects within the picture area.” And my discussion is about using composition and compositional guidelines to enhance a photograph’s impact.

Those four topics allow me to interject all sorts of information about using their cameras and I can sum every thing up as I finish discussing Composition.

I always hope that those in attendance take the time to reread the handouts I gave them, browse their notes, practice their photography when they leave the same way one would when learning a musical instrument and when the opportunity arises, take another class on photography.

In my opinion the learning never should end.

What is a Good Photograph?

Just what defines a good photograph is, and will always be, a topic of heated discussion with serious photographers; and in my opinion, is one that is certainly worth regular examination because, simply put, a “good photograph” is what those who enjoy this medium want to make.

There are, of course, those that believe a good photograph must capture an image absolutely true to life, while others might say it’s totally about how creative the photographer is, however, if one relies on they number of “likes” they receive on social media sites a good photograph probably depends on the beauty of the subject.

When I taught photography I told my students that a good photograph includes acceptable composition, exposure, and an interesting perspective.

I also said that a good photograph makes us have a connection with, or think about the subject, and might help us understand what the photographer feels about that subject; and if successful, evokes some kind of mood, whether good or bad.

American photographer Ansel Adams said, “A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.” And he elaborates, “Simply look with perceptive eyes at the world about you, and trust to your own reactions and convictions. Ask yourself: “Does this subject move me to feel, think and dream? Can I visualize a print – my own personal statement of what I feel and want to convey – from the subject before me?”

And Adams reminds us, “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.”

Another of my favorite scenic photographers, Elliott Porter, commented, “You learn to see by practice. It’s just like playing tennis; you get better the more you play. The more you look around at things, the more you see. The more you photograph, the more you realize what can be photographed and what can’t be photographed. You just have to keep doing it.”

Vogue magazine Editorial photographer Irving Penn, wrote, “A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it. It is, in a word, effective.”

What is a good photograph? That might only be in the “eye of the beholder”. If one is a camera club member there will be rules on how a photograph is judged. And when I graded my students’ work I was mostly interested in their knowledge.

Sometimes we see a photograph that moves or inspires us, makes us feel, think and dream. And when a photographer is able to convey that to viewers he or she has truly made a good photograph.

Communicating Our Personal Photographic Vision  

 

 

I enjoy pretty much everything when it comes to photography. I am happiest when I get to talk about it, read about it, and look at other photographer’s work, and of course, any occasion where I get to point my camera at a subject.

Famous and influential photographer Edward Weston once wrote, “Photography suits the temper of this age – of active bodies and minds. It is a perfect medium for one whose mind is teeming with ideas, imagery, for a prolific worker who would be slowed down by painting or sculpting, for one who sees quickly and acts decisively, accurately.”

Weston most likely said sometime in the 1950s, but it aptly describes many of those taking pictures with all kinds of cameras in the 21st century. Yes, it is the, “perfect medium for one whose mind is teeming with ideas…”

As I looked at several images (several were from iPhones) that were proudly posted online I thought how those words fit many modern photographers. However, there I was looking at many pictures that, although quite creative and colourful, lacked the basic compositional guidelines I was taught              (I suspect Weston learned also) and are still being taught in almost any class on photography.

Photographic composition is the selection and arrangement of the subject within the picture area. However, what I saw seemed in many cases to be hastily captured images with little regard to the importance of any centre of interest that might help viewers identify what the photographer is trying to communicate.

Maybe it is the conditioning we get by clumsily pointing our cell phones at a subject, or the thoughtless reliance on a camera’s auto focusing device to select whatever is in the middle of the viewfinder for proper focus.

There is a compositional guideline called, “the rule of thirds”. This so-called rule is a simple principal that divides an image into thirds, horizontally and vertically, and tells us to position the most important elements in our scene along these lines, or at the points where they intersect, and by doing so, adding balance and interest to one’s picture.

I subscribe to four components when I create a picture:

  1. The Centre of Interest: A strong center of interest helps the viewer identify the point of the picture, or what the photographer is trying to communicate.
  2. Angles: Begin by looking at the subject, move around – up and down, vertical or horizontal. Decide what should or should not be included.
  3. Distance: Don’t back away. Eliminate everything that does not add to the picture.  Close-ups convey intimacy, long shots build space and depth.
  4. Background: The background can make or break that photograph. Use the background to build interest in the center of interest.

There will be those photographers that in the interest of their own creative freedom will disregard anything that they believe will restrict their photographic independence and innovation or what they think might apply limits to their imagination.

I wouldn’t agree with that. I don’t think this is an argument of vision.

If our goal as photographers is to create an image that withstands the test of time and communicating a personal vision, then one must learn the        basics of composition in the same way as one would learn the basics of exposure, or how to make the camera actually work whether it’s a DSLR, or a feature of a cell phone.

What Shall I Photograph when its windy? 

Lilac

Oregon Grape

Allium

Oriental Poppy in wind

Iris in wind

B&W Iris in wind

I looked out the kitchen window at my wife’s garden. It was late afternoon, the sun was peaking out under the clouds after a light rain, and the garden was glowing with a gusty, light breeze.

Linda mentioned that we hadn’t taken any pictures of the spring garden yet and suggested that it looked so fresh after that rain that I should be able to get some good flower photos in spite of the wind.

Wind? Wind is not a problem if photographers take the time to problem solve. I could increase the ISO or shutterspeed, but that wouldn’t do much for the ambient light, and I like more control. My normal technique for photographing flowers is to underexpose the ambient and illuminate the subject with a flash. I recall years ago having given my photography students a “stop action” assignment. They were to go out at night or find a large, dimly lit room, and use a flash to stop a moving subject in a photograph. All they had to do was select enough flash power at a specific distance to illuminate their subject properly when they released the shutter.

Those were assignments given before modern, computerized cameras and TTL dedicated flash when the flash would always produce the same amount of light and the aperture controlled the amount of light exposing the subject.

My technique for my windy garden was the same. I placed my 200mm macro lens on my camera and attached a ring-light on it. I really like is using a ring light on rainy days. I keep it on manual mode and stay at a specific distance so it won’t under or over expose the subject I am photographing. My ring flash also has ¼ and ¾ power increments to reduce the flash power output if I need it.

Just as my photography students learned all those years ago, when I pressed the shutter the flash stops the movement of the flowers in the wind. Nevertheless, the wind was quickly drying out the plants, so I had to quickly search for leaves that still showed raindrops.

The movement problem was almost solved. I took extra shots when I thought some motion had wrecked my shots, however, it was the sun that became the biggest concern. I had hoped the high clouds would block the sun, but instead of getting more bad weather, I got less, and with the clearing sky I began to struggle with the bright light.

The bright light would have been fine if all I wanted to do was document plants in the sun, but I wanted to go beyond that. Just pointing and shooting is boring. I would have liked to get out lightstands, a couple of off-camera flashes, and even a black backdrop, but the wind continued on, and would probably blow all that stuff over and I never followed up on that option.

So while other photographers might have celebrated the sunny, clear sky and be willing to put up with windy landscapes, I was done for the day.

I think I am pretty lucky that I don’t have to go far when I want to take pictures. Over the years I have looked hard into what is close to me and instead of being one of those photographers that depends on a car to find a location to get inspired. I just look around the yard and adjust my thoughts and camera for what awaits me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Viewing Scenic Photographs   

 

seagulls and boat 2

Falis Pond 2

Wolf ranch

I enjoy looking at photographs that seem to have been made with the goal of saying something about a moment in time or place. Sometimes I even get a sense of the struggle the photographer had while trying capture a particular mood and how hard it was to convey that mood to the viewer. I think creativity takes a lot of effort.

This week I thumbed through a hard cover book I have had for years by one of my favorite landscape photographers, Eliot Porter. The book, entitled Intimate Landscapes, is from an exhibition of fifty-five color photographs by Eliot Porter, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I enjoy how he eliminates those elements that add nothing to the composition and selects those that add meaning to his visual statement. He had an amazing awareness of how colors create mood. A review I read went on to say that his photographs, “reflect the standards of excellence that are Eliot Porter’s greatest contribution to the field of color photography. Upon seeing these photographs, the viewer is immediately struck by the artist’s distinctly individual and intimate interpretation of the natural world.” His photographs are different and specific, and have a personality that I think come from the experiences of the photographer.

When I finally put down the book I thought about how many of the scenic photographs that populate photography forums I currently read are mostly documentary type photographs, and I wonder if the photographers believe that any vista with lots of space and colour is worthy of photographing. They might be of the opinion that all it takes is a wide-angle lens to miraculously convey the feeling and emotional reaction they personally felt at that moment. Perhaps that is why the viewers’ responses they get are sometimes limited to, “nice sky and good composition”.

My long-time friend, Bob Clark, used to critically suggest that all one needs for people to like your landscape or scenic photo was to have a “National-Geographic-sky”, a magazine that was filled with pretty pictures of places from around the world with blue skies and billowy white clouds.

I prefer scenics that make an impression on me and convey a mood. I want to look at a photograph that allows me to find a story in it; or at least be able to search for one, and hope for a photograph that I can respond to on some level. A photograph should try to accomplish something, and should have a strong sense of self-expression. Photographers should look for something in the landscape that is unique, and that will set their photograph apart. As photographers we should try to express our personal viewpoints and hope to summon an emotional response from those who view our photographs.