Waiting for the Best Light.

Early spring stream

I am sure there are lots of photographers that have discovered a special location, or scenic spot, that looks good, but when the photograph just isn’t working out and the day just isn’t making things look good, photographers return again and again, hoping for the light to be just right. That bridge on the way to work or the gnarled tree outside of town bent from the wind, that never looks the way we want it. That was always the problem with a location that my wife and I regularly drive past along Highway 97 south of our home. We always, winter, summer, spring, or fall, slow down at a bridge crossing a drainage stream that flows out and onto wide lush hayfields. The stream turns a corner as it flows past bushy native shrubs and out of a pine forest.

The image I mention is a grass and foliage lined stream that for the past six years is usually  a shady, dark, flat, and poorly illuminated possibility. The elusive landscape is perfect with a fence in the foreground that creates three-dimensionality. Depth is easily achieved as a viewer’s eye easily moves from the objects in the fore, middle and background.

I always want a center of interest and the reflective meandering stream becomes that. The composition follows the rule of thirds without any effort. Walk off the road, stand in the deep grass and put a shoulder to the bridge-post to steady the shot, and the rest just comes natural. All that is required is interesting light (that has not been cooperating) to bring everything together to create interest.

At last, this week on a clear spring morning about 9:30am, the light was working. There are times when that open space along the road actually has had an all-illuminating bright light , but that defuses detail, or sometimes it’s cloudy and overcast with everything to be lost in shadow. However, to my great pleasure, this time the light was cool, and without glare, and the shadows weren’t dark and deep. I couldn’t have asked for a better morning to stop and make an exposure or two.

As I wrote earlier, we always slow down, and cast a glance up the stream (the constant traffic willing) as we cross the bridge in hopes that the light is working. I have even parked on a sunny day, got out and walked across the road, only to have some large cloud move in.

This location has been frustrating, but I just add it to the many other landscapes that I refuse to waste my time with unless the conditions are what I want. I recall the concrete bridge on the Thompson River that I watched every morning and evening for years as I drove to work. Everything has changed now, but once there was a young tree and a grass edged road leading to that bridge. I wanted to stand in the middle of the small road and make a low-angled photograph of that grey bridge. When the light was perfect I didn’t have my camera, when I had my camera there was no light. I struggled for five or six years with that picture. Film ruled photography in those days and I was determined that when I made the picture it would be with my medium format Hasselblad camera.

When the day finally came about 7am one foggy morning the low-angled light thinned at the bridge entrance and gave the young tree a golden glow and I was, for once, ready.   I originally called that image “six years” because that’s how long it took me to take the picture. However, when I sold several copies to an organization that gave them as gifts to visiting NASA scientists from the United States, they renamed it “Pathway to the Future”.

Well here I am again at another six-year point and thanks to my wife demanding that I stop the car and pull over, I finally have the image I have been after for all those years.

Photography can be a patient thing and I like having the time to think about my subject. Six years might be a long time for some, but I have always liked the process, and there are a few more landscape scenes out there waiting for the light and me to come together in agreement in the next few years.

As always, I remind readers that I really enjoy your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

What Does “Composition” Mean?

Cat & Rule of Thirds  White horse in field  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Photography is not like painting. There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life offers itself to you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative.”    I included that quote by famous French photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, because he used the word “composition”, and it is that word and how it is currently being used that I have been recently thinking about.

The word composition gets thrown around a lot when discussing photographs.  I’ll read forums where responses to posted images might say something like, “great capture, good composition,” or sometimes, something as meaningless as “I love your composition”.

I know the posters don’t actually mean composition as a photographic technique. I think it has just become an alternative word that means “picture”.  Modern photographers seem to hesitate referring to a photograph someone has posted to an online site as a picture. They want a more modern word, and I guess using the word “composition” instead of “picture” has become that word.

That came to mind, when a young photographer said to me, “I don’t really know a lot about photography, but what I do know is that I am really good at is composition.”  That was one of the few times I have been left speechless.

Photographic composition is defined as, “the selection and arrangement of subjects within the picture area.”  And unlike those who replace the word picture with the word composition, I use composition and compositional guidelines to help me enhance a photograph’s impact.

Photographers are limited by the actual physical appearance of the subjects they are photographing, and depend on camera position, the perspective created by different lense’s focal lengths, and the elements that make up a picture to communicate to viewer’s what they saw when they made the photograph.

I think about what is important and how I want to arrange my composition, and I consciously subtract those elements that I think are unimportant or distracting. When setting up a composition I usually think about and apply the ‘Rule of Thirds’ wherein we divide the image into nine equal segments with two vertical and two horizontal lines. The Rule of Thirds says that you should position the most important elements in your scene along these lines, or at the points where they intersect, and by doing so, adding balance and interest to one’s picture.

I looked up composition online where there are page after page of composition tips. I decided I’d add my own, “apple technique to proper picture making and composition”.  Here goes!

While driving along and finding an inspiring scene.   Don’t just point the camera out the car window!

1. Stop the car.

2. Get out.

3. Leave the camera in the camera bag.

4. Get an apple and eat it as one looks at the inspiring scene. Think about what is likeable about it, and make some choices as to how compose, or arrange, the features within the picture area you photographing.  Photographers should ask; what would someone like to say about the scene to the viewer?

5. Finally, go back to the car, get the camera, and make the picture.

Elliott Erwitt, American, documentary photographer wrote, “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

This photographer’s thoughts on Composition

Much of the time the photographers I meet and talk to really have only one interest in photography and that is to discuss equipment.  Nowadays, especially, they are very excited about the newest products.  Photographers should be building a selection of equipment that will allow them to do photography the way they like and that works effectively for the subject they want to photograph.

As much as I do like talking about cameras, lenses, and other assorted equipment, what I really like to talk about is photographs.  So, last week, when a photographer stopped by with some nice enlargements, I was pleased to say the least.  We talked about how successful her photographs were at capturing the viewer’s attention, where the photos were taken, her objectives for each, the colors, and why she cropped them the way she had.  They were good photographs and looking at good photos sometimes lets you know a bit about the person who took them.  We started talking about photographic composition; not so much of the photos we were looking at, but just a general discussion.  So today I thought I’d put some thoughts down that people could think about when composing a photograph.

A person painting or drawing can truly compose an image; they have total freedom to place, arrange and alter the appearance of visual elements.  Photographers are limited by the actual physical appearance of the subject being photographed and depend on using camera position, point of view or the perspective created by different focal lengths of their lenses.  With photography we try to produce exciting, well balanced images, depending on the subject and how we want to communicate with those elements in the photograph.

What is your photograph about?  Instead of shooting right away, stop to decide which part of the scene you really want to show. Let the content determine the size and importance of the objects.   Try what I call the apple technique:  You are driving along and see an inspiring scene. Don’t just point your camera out the car window!

1. Stop the car.

2. Get out.

3. Leave the camera in your bag.

4. Get an apple and eat it as you are looking at that inspiring scene.   Think about what you like about it. Make some choices. What would you like to say to the viewer?

5. Then get your camera and make the picture.

As you are making your basic choices and deciding on what visual elements are important think about what the famous War photographer Robert Capra, known for the intensity and immediacy of his images, said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”  Getting closer eliminates distracting objects and simplifies the contents of a picture. It reduces busy backgrounds and focuses attention to the main subject or center of interest.

Another consideration is whether to photograph horizontal or vertical.  I listened to a discussion by successful magazine photographer, Scott Bourne.  He asked the question, “When do you take the horizontal?”  His answer was, “After you take the vertical.”

A final thought is to think about important visual elements and how best to arrange them in your photograph. The Rule of Thirds – Draw imaginary lines dividing the picture area into thirds horizontally, than vertically. Important subject areas should fall on the intersections of the lines.  For example, a photograph of an old barn in a field; move your viewfinder around to see how it would look placed in the upper right intersection the each other after that. If you take the time to decide and compose, your photographs will be much more successful.

www.enmanscamera.com

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