Problem Solving Approaches to Photography

The procession 1

The procession 2

The procession 3

 

There are times when all photographers end up with faulty photographs. Once in a while it can be blamed on the equipment, or processing, although certainly not as much now as when film was used. However, in my opinion, even today most of those faulty photographs are because of poor techniques.

A friend stopped by my shop last week to tell me about his trip to Mexico. He complained that his daughter’s cheap little point and shoot camera got better pictures than he had with his son’s expensive DSLR. I don’t think he was happy when I told him the problem was most likely with his technique. I was certain that little point and shoot’s tiny sensor or it’s lens didn’t match the quality of a DSLR.

I listened to a local photographer grumble about how local photo labs are failing to make her prints the way she thinks they should be. I expect she totally relies on her camera’s programs and is one of those of the belief that if the camera they have been using doesn’t give good pictures then they should buy a newer or different manufacturer’s offering to make it so. In her opinion, that latest camera is advertised as producing wonderful images and when she doesn’t get the correct colour balance or sharpness it can’t be the camera or her fault, it must be the labs.

Years ago I was asked by the Abbotsford Photo Arts Club to give a lecture about problem solving in photography during their annual session. That was long before any of us even thought of the amazing control computers in our cameras or on our desktops now give us. However, at that time I felt, and still do, that the responsibility for a good photograph belongs to the photographer and not the film companies, camera manufacturers, or some poor, overworked lab technician. The point of that lecture, so long ago, was that photographers should look at each photograph as a problem to be solved, and go through the process of correcting faults before releasing the shutter.

Photographers used to say that it was all in the negative; that a properly exposed and developed negative gave the best possibilities of a fine quality print. I still agree with that principle only now it isn’t an image about to be developed on film.

By the time I arrive on the scene to photograph my subject of choice I have already made several decisions and I try to do as the famous photographer, Ansel Adams would do and “previsualize” the image or in my words, “problem solve for the final photograph”.

Like Adams, photographers should be thinking about how the final photograph will be used and how to accomplish that. If one thinks of a final photograph as a series of problems to be solved there will be a smooth transition from initial idea to final print. For example one could begin by thinking about the subject and its environment. What is the background and how will that affect the subject? What is in the foreground that will interfere with that subject?   If one considers depth of field a decision must be made how much is wanted to be “in focus”. Continuing on, in a landscape photograph, photographers will probably want everything from the foreground to far off distance to be crystal clear; whereas, for a portrait the photographer may want the background to be “out of focus”. Another consideration is what is the lighting like and will its direction be flattering?

The sun and its direction is always very important when photographing people. I prefer to have it coming from behind my subject and as readers know, I like to use off-camera flash. Although, if for whatever reason that isn’t possible, I problem solve my way into a photograph that works.

Photographers don’t need to see problems as a deterrent or bad thing. When I suggest to photographers to take a problem solving approach to photography I am really just saying that every element in any creative photographic composition is important, and from start to finish if a photographer uses a system of photographic problem solving there will be less faulty and more successful images.

With digital technology one can easily determine what went wrong or is going wrong and take the time to problem solve before downloading to the computer or relying on technicians at the local photo lab and hoping they are equipped with PhotoShop wizardry.

I appreciate your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Camera Manual and the Basics of Photography.

I was photographing an outdoor event on a hot, bright day a short time ago when another photographer walked up to me complaining that most shots were not turning out as hoped. This happened again at a wedding I was photographing last weekend. The guest had a perfectly good camera, but criticized it, and said he wished he had a better one because the backlighted couple we were photographing were being recorded as silhouettes.

Ending up with faulty photographs from time to time isn’t unusual, although not as much nowadays as when film was used. However, I think most faults occur because photographers haven’t taken the time to learn how their cameras work, and have a poor basic understanding of photography and techniques.

With digital technology it’s easy to determine what is going wrong by checking the camera’s LCD and the histogram. I doubt that either of those complaining photographers I talked to used the LCD for anything but reviewing pictures. They probably hadn’t gone through the camera’s menu and set it for the conditions under which they would shoot. Both had selected the auto, or program mode, and to add light to the bright, backlit environment were only using the camera’s tiny pop-up flash. They would have been much more successful if they had a mounted a hotshoe flash on their cameras and selected the “M” mode. I expect they will be relying on their images being saved by technicians at the local photo lab or hoping for some friend with PhotoShop wizardry.

I continually meet photographers that complain about how various big photo labs are failing to make their prints the way they think they should be. They rely on their camera’s preset programs, and I expect are of the belief that if the camera they have been using doesn’t make good pictures then they should change and upgrade to the manufacturer’s latest offering to make it so.

When I arrive at a location to photograph I immediately start making tests. I keep my camera in the manual exposure mode so I can quickly change the ISO, shutter, or the aperture to suit my shooting.  I continue to do that throughout the entire session, checking the histogram frequently, and leaving nothing to chance by lazily relying on the camera’s pre-programmed modes.

I begin by contemplating about the subject and its environment.  What is the background and how will that affect the subject? What is in the foreground that will interfere with that subject?   If one considers depth of field a decision must be made about how much will be “in focus”.  Sometimes in a portrait that includes a landscape, I’ll want everything from the foreground to the far-off distance to be crystal clear, and at other times I’ll want the background to be “out of focus”; whichever I select requires its own aperture setting.

What is the lighting like and will its direction be flattering on the subject? The sun and its direction are always very important when photographing people. I prefer to have it coming from behind my subject and like to use a flash for “fill” lighting to remove shadows and silhouettes.

I can do all this because I have taken the time to learn the basics of photography, and I have also taken the time to learn how my camera works. I don’t think either of those photographers that complained to me had done that. I expect they just got themselves ready for the event, grabbed their camera on the way out the door without reviewing their manual beforehand, recalled that the digital camera has a “P”, or auto mode, and believed the camera would make everything they photographed perfect.

Photographers using film used to say that it was all in the negative; that a properly exposed and developed negative gave the best possibilities of a fine quality print.  I still agree with that principle, only now it isn’t an image about to be developed on the negative, but an image about to be processed on the sensor.

I always appreciate comments, Thanks in advance.