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.

Which Button is for the Composition Mode?        

Pritchard store

Open Gates bw

Forest path

Canon Beach 2

Palouse falls 2

Which button is for the composition mode?     Yes, I did get asked that question the other day, but it is not as silly as it first sounds. I’ll go back to the conversation from which it comes.

A customer stopped by my shop wanting to get a different camera other than the one he had been using for over 20 years.

I was showing him a couple of cameras and explaining the different modes like “aperture priority”, “shutter priority”, “program” and “manual” when he made the statement, “All that seems a bit complicated, just show me which button is for the composition mode because mostly I like taking scenics”.

The other customer in the store stopped her browsing, turned, and just looked at me. I’m not sure if she was troubled by his statement, or also wanted to know about this secret button.

I replied, “Composition is what you do, not the camera, to position your subject within the viewfinder frame,” and added; “composition also deals with perspective and the relationship you create between subjects in the foreground and background.”

Does all that seem too complicated of an answer? I was making squares and rectangles with my hand and moving things around on the counter as I explained it hoping to make it clear to him. Now, however, let us go back to his question of the “composition button” and what he was trying to achieve with his camera. Remember his last camera was from the 1970’s. Even auto focus was new to him.

Cameras programmed since the 1980s are pretty capable of getting the exposure correct in all but the most contrasty lighting conditions. If he were to get serious now that he was about to get a DSLR he would be trying to discover how other successful photographers compose a scenic. Or he would be doing some reading, joining a camera club, or taking some classes that would teach him composition. My impression was that he just liked to take pictures and capture memories of the places he has been. So I think either the mode with the “little mountains” or with the “running person” on the dial of the camera I was showing him would give him exactly what he was looking for and we could, if we wanted to, call them composition modes.

The exposure mode I feel most comfortable with is manual and I am continually thumbing through the different menus on my camera to reset things. I make my living using a camera so I have a camera in my hand a lot of the time. I think each of us needs to use our cameras in ways that make us comfortable so we won’t happen to be confused and experimenting with the settings at that moment when the action happens in front of our camera.

I used to call that a “Kodak moment”. Hmmm, I think I need to find a new phrase now that I am no longer using Kodak films and that company has pretty much disappeared.

In any event, I recommended that he not worry too much about composition and experiment with the different modes his camera has to offer other than “P”. Hopefully he’ll stop by again and I can get him using his DSLR as more than just a point and shoot camera.

In closing this article that started with thoughts of composition, I particularly like this quote of Alexander Lee Nyerges of the Art Institute of Dayton, Ohio, when discussing an exhibition of Ansel Adams of the American West.

“His landscapes were operatic in composition, complete with lighting, tragedy and drama—luring those who viewed his works to seek Nature and capture the spirit of the wilderness.” I am certain Adams had a special button for composition.

Getting Close 

Cowboy hats Not eaxctly bullet proof

Ford V8

c. Cat & Car

Blue bottles

People watching Ocean Tree

Watching the Rodeo

 

 

There is an old saying in photography that goes, “ If your photographs aren’t good enough, it’s probably because you aren’t close enough”.

I remember saying this to a young photographer, who became somewhat alarmed and responded, “You mean I should stop using my wide angle and shoot with a telephoto instead?” However, that isn’t what that long time photography quote is about.

What that means is that a photograph should be about something. That the photographer should discard, crop out, or, when making the original capture, move in close enough so that those elements visible in the image are the only things that relate to the photograph.

When I was just a young photographer I would question other photographers who I felt were successful at their craft for ideas that would make my photographs better, and I remember the following advice by a working photojournalist.

He talked about pre-visualizing a photograph (a term Ansel Adams and Minor White coined regarding the importance of imagining in your mind’s eye what you want the final print to reveal about a subject), and continued that a photographer should follow the rules of composition with all the elements in the scene, and finally told me I should always think about stepping closer to “tighten up” the image.

His advice came from a time period when very few photographers were using mutifocal or “zoom” lenses. In that time period quality glass and sharp images depended on fixed focal length lenses, or the more modern term is “prime” lens.

I will not go into a discussion of prime versus zoom lenses. Some people enjoy arguing about equipment, and they will pull out charts and make lots of tests to prove their point of view. Personally, I select a lens with which I am comfortable with and that I think will help me do the best job for the work at hand.

Getting closer changes the perspective and builds a relationship between the foreground and background. With a wide-angle or 50mm lens, the elements in the foreground become more important, and with telephoto’s 200mm and longer, they become less important and, as in a scenic taken with, say a 100mm, everything seems to have equal importance.

Teach yourself to look at the many features inside your composition. Start with the centre of interest or main subject, decide what in that composition relates to that centre of interest and then step closer to remove areas and features that have no relationship or interfere with whatever you want your viewer to concentrate upon.

Pre-visualise what you want to say visually and get closer to remove everything that doesn’t relate to the composition.

I remember reading an article written by a photographer I really enjoy, Ron Bigelow, www.ronbigelow.com. In an article he discussed his experience shooting with another photographer. However it was his summary that made me stop and think,   “I couldn’t help thinking of some of the extraordinary images that I have seen from various large format photographers. It was obvious to me that much of what I admired in their images had nothing to do with the very high resolution that their equipment produced. Rather, it had everything to do with the time that they put into each image. The observing, thinking, and preparation that occurred before they fired their first shot.”

Photography, a personal vision.

Kamloops Lake 1

Kamloops Lake

Kamloops Lake 1a

Lawnmower Race copy1

Lawnmower Race copy2

Sax player 1 Sax player 2

 

 

 

 

My photographer friend Greg posted the following statement on the Canadian photographer flickr.com/group: “Recently I’ve come across a number of photographs on the social media outlets that are absolutely stunning and amazing works of art, but there are a whole host of people who comment saying ‘it looks fake’, ‘it needs to be more real’, ‘that picture has no resemblance to reality’”. And he continues raising the question with “Should we be striving to produce photographs that are more ‘real’ to please the crowds who seem to have very little understanding of art?”

My quick and easy response is to quote Plato, “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”. Even Shakespeare in his work, Love’s Labours Lost writes, “Beauty is bought by judgment of the eye”.

I understand his (and others) frustration with those that are ready to condemn anything that deviates from their personal interpretation of photography, but we need to remember that is just their opinion. I don’t think Greg or any other photographer should “be striving to produce photographs…to please the crowds”. However, when one displays a photograph on any social media site one needs to be ready for someone else’s opinion.

I used the following last January in my discussion of Photography as a Fine Art. Wikipedia’s on-line encyclopedia says, “Fine art photography is photography created in accordance with the vision of the artist as photographer.” That should be enough to ease my friend’s frustration. I will comment to him that those detractors didn’t understand the interpretation or artistic vision of the photographer’s work.

Some may disagree with me, but I think photography has always been a technology driven medium. And just as there are those willing to push the limits, there surely are also those that employ their cameras simply as devices to document the people, objects, and scenes in front of them, and I have no doubt their criticism might come swiftly to those that manipulate their images instead of maintaining the more conservative course of photographic reality.

Regarding Greg’s question about some people’s understanding, or lack of understanding of art, that is a question that countless generations may have struggled with possibly since the first humans decided to place a favourite rock in their cave or put coloured pigment on the wall.

I believe the question is actually, “What is Art and who has the right to define Art?”

Mark Twain is attributed with the words, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.”   I expect most of us fall into that category.

Here are a number of quotes about art by artists. American architect and designer Frank Lloyd Wright said, “Art is a discovery and development of elementary principles of nature into beautiful forms suitable for human use.” However, I much preferred photographer Ansel Adams words, “Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art.” Or this from novelist Rainbow Rowell, “…and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.” And French Impressionist painter Edgar Degas wrote, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

When one has the need to be creative they should have the right to decide on their own particular style to fulfill their personal creative vision. What that vision is should be entirely up to the photographer, and the audience for whom the image is produced. I think the problem in this day of mass social media is how to select the right audience.

I do look forward to your comments. Thank you, John

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revisiting Film and Twin Lens Camera

Using a Ikonoflex TTL camera

Photographic film is a strip of transparent material coated on one side with light-sensitive silver halide crystals called emulsion. The emulsion gradually darkens when exposed to light forming an image when light passes through the lens to reach it, creating a latent image in the light sensitive emulsion. This is then chemically developed as a negative image, and eventually printed as a positive image seen as a photograph.

Using film was a time consuming, and for many, an imperfect way to document the world. Nevertheless, for nearly two hundred years photographers have persevered and in spite of sometimes days, weeks, or even months between the initial exposure and the final print, learned to minimize the errors and present exciting examples of the craft, or art, to an appreciating public.

The good thing about shooting film is how it forces one to learn what each part of the camera is for before making a photo. Mistakes can get pretty expensive with a film camera so this forces photographers to learn quickly.

After about 30 years of earning a living using film I embraced the technological change to digital and had no intention or ever handling another roll of film. So when my wife informed me she was planning to get a medium format film camera and was going to begin shooting film I must admit to mixed feelings.

However, my wife’s reasons had little to do with film and more to do with finding a way to slow down the process of image making. She talked about getting more involved in the act of photography than the process of taking a picture. I knew exactly what she meant; many modern photographers seem to be more about the technology of photography, and instead of studying a subject for that perfect shot, will take the machine gun approach. And when asked why they released the shutter 300 times on their subject the answer is, “to be sure I got it”.

Linda will be limited to 12 exposures in her lightweight, German made, Ikoflex camera with a waist level finder. We’re all guilty of getting a little bit snap happy with our cameras, and taking loads of useless photos of nothing in particular just because we can. That’s not really an option with film (unless there’s more money then sense); one doesn’t thoughtlessly take a bunch of photos and transfer them to a computer.

There is the requirement for a decision making process before releasing the shutter – it can’t just be of anything. The added pressure of not wanting to waste money and time on film and developing forces a photographer to become much more careful in considering how to make the photo before releasing the shutter.

I welcome readers comments. Thanks, John

Judging Barriere 4H Photography

The Judge

On the Sunday of the September long weekend I spent an enjoyable day judging the Barriere 4H club members photography presentations at the North Thompson Fall Fair.

Although I have taken on the role of judge many times before, I am still slightly uncomfortable in a formal critique. Just looking at a photograph and discussing it, even placing a grade on it, as I did for years as a college instructor, is easier because everyone is competing with themselves. But when choosing a first, second, and third place is a competition about who is better, one has to work very hard not to be influenced by personal feelings, taste, and opinions on the subject.

Most photographers seem to think a photographic “critique” means “to find fault with.” I don’t think that’s right. When one critiques another’s photograph they should be analyzing its strengths and successes. What doesn’t work is important and should be part of the discussion, but the main concern is what works, not, what doesn’t work.

This was my first time with the 4H club. Photography in this instance was set apart from the other events at the North Thompson Fall Fair that included animal husbandry, and the judging was, in my opinion, more about the young member’s personal development in photography and how well they could adhere to the guidelines than how good their individual photographs were. Although unusual, the process was interesting, and I think valuable.

I will say that the quality of the photography was surprising for such young individuals. I was able to pick out specific interests and strengths in each of the young photographers. Yes, like all photographers, I expect those that are serious about the medium will undergo growth as they become more experienced with their cameras, and experiment with the medium of photography in general.

What is a good photograph?

“Life” magazine, “Time” magazine, and “People” magazine photographer, John Loengard, said, “It is not important if photographs are “good.” It’s important that they are interesting”.

Anyone who wants to take better pictures should focus on the fundamentals, and a successful photographer must have an understanding of composition and lighting because what is important for the viewer is how the photographer composes (or arranges) the image, and how the light is captured, both which sets the images apart.

William Reedy, in his book, “Impact Photography for Advertising” writes about how the successful photographer must, “…stop the eye…(and)…set the mood…” I have liked that quote for years. And I am pleased to say that there were some of those young 4H photographers that were able to accomplish that and I hope I get to see their again photography in the future.

Photographers Must Remember to Consider the Background

Brewster copy 2  Spirit

Gracie 1

Fat Cat

chuck port copy

Looking Scout

Rikkonna 1

Much of the time photographers get so excited about the subject before their camera that they don’t pay any attention to anything else that is captured by the camera’s sensor when the exposure is made. Of course, things can be cropped out during postproduction, but what if the background is so busy that it obscures the intended subject of the photograph? The background can impact a subject in many ways and much of the time it interferes with the subject.

In the past I have written about composition, depth of field, and even bokeh. Composition can be as simple as creating an interesting photograph by using basic guidelines or compositional strategies for a balanced image. Depth of field is that area in front of and behind the subject that is acceptably clear, and bokeh refers to that portion of an image that is out of focus. Using those three mechanisms or strategies as a way to isolate a subject help photographers increase the impact their photographs have for viewers.

A serious wild life photographer once told me that it is important to have a background that is neutral and non descript. I had one experienced birder giving me tips on photographing Loons, explain that soft green water made better pictures than contrasty blue water. I think that this may be his personal opinion, but I have to agree that of the photos I took that day I liked way the green water looks better.

I recall a photographer who had exhibited his photograph in a local exhibition being angry because he didn’t get a mention by the judges on his photograph of an eagle posing on a branch. He had exposed it properly and displayed it sharply. He was so proud of his photograph of that bald eagle that he was unable to see the busy background and how it negatively impacted on the overall photograph. I believe the judges did see that.

My advice to that photographer would be to curb his excitement and spend some time examining his subject and its surroundings. Using the term, coined by Ansel Adams, that I mentioned in my 26 June 2014 article, he should “previsualize” the image for its best impact.

Compose and isolate the center of interest, and decide how to use the background to the best effect; whether the background should be in, out, or partially focused, or to have it clear or cluttered, and if it is appropriate for inclusion or to be excluded. A busy background distracts viewer’s attention.

Backgrounds present both opportunities and challenges to photographers. Here are four very simple suggestions other photographers have told me take into consideration to make the background work.

1. Check your background before pressing the shutter;
2. Pay attention to your shooting angle;
3. Use the aperture or the focal length to blur the background;
4. Fill the frame with your subject.
They are all great tips, or thoughts for us all to remember, and I personally like the words of Ansel Adams that fits well,  “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” And I’ll add, remember to consider the background.

I enjoy all comments. Thanks, John

My website is at http://www.enmanscamera.com