Following on from the table top week this session was a results one. These are important sessions to us as photographers even if we are looking at the same subjects we are not looking at the same interpretations and as we looked at in the last blog, these are a really good place to practice the basics in situations where we can control pretty much everything, cheaply and enjoyably.
Photography, for anyone who takes it at least a little bit seriously, is a problem solving exercise. How do we get others to see what it is that we see that bears recording? The author Flannery O’Connor is quoted as saying ‘I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.’ Substitute “write” for “photograph” and “read” for “frame” and “say” for “see” then I think a lot of us would recognise the feeling. There is a whole craft of difference between “There is something interesting” as opposed to “There should be something in that”. Don McCullin feels that “Photography … is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures,” Hence, in search of what our mind’s eye sees (visualisation) we can apply the principle of “Working the scene” as a method of seeing what we are feeling.
Worth revisiting, before we expand this, are previous considerations on rules – which those of you have persevered with this blog will remember as “Tools” – which are all about organising lines, curves, triangles and shapes for effect. There is an elemental value to thirds, leading lines, filling the frame, repeating patterns etc. etc. but not of their own. We are the difference that focuses all these things into a frame, the ultimate lens.
First off let us consider the notion of the position the camera is in when viewing a scene aka Point of View (POV). Rarely is eye-level when standing, unless you are exceptionally tall or exceptionally small, the best to be had POV. I am not sure what percentage of the images are taken from this rather inflexible POV but willing to bet it is in the high nineties. That is not to totally to dismiss it, it gives us an as seen perspective after all but it shouldn’t be left at that.
Moving, zooming with our feet changes the perspective of foreground to background. Zooming with a lens alters the compression between foreground and background by optically cropping. Then there is the low angle and high angle perspectives and we can combine these POV’s with the tool of thirds to place objects around in different parts of the frame, and / or vary the depth of field.
All these are interactions with the thing that we saw in the first place, the thing that gave us pause. We use the frame of the viewfinder to exclude those things that get in the way of that vision and we use the principles and tools of composition to work the scene in order to explore those things that are particular about it out of which we make a story. It is worth putting in the effort to make sure we have all the angles covered, to have the material to choose from that gives us the best chance of getting on file what we saw in the first instance.
Can’t this be done in post? Technically some of it can, but, the in camera images are the raw materials, not the finished item. Indeed, it could be argued that, as pictures, this data does not exist as an image until it is printed. It is everything we can work with but it’s not everything on offer. Remember, that the camera is a tool for excluding detail from the capture of what we have visualised.
Culling the images should be the left to the start of post production. It is basically a waste of time and battery to keep on chimping (taking the photograph and then looking into the live view and going ooh,ah) and breaks the work flow when working the scene. All things at the proper time is the basis of an effective work flow.
Time spent in capture, getting it right in camera, saves on time staring at a computer screen trying to put things right. Experience tells us that we will, with the luxury of time, squander it fiddling with lifeless images, often trying to hide deformities beyond masks and filters and effects. It is the joy of being an amateur that we can do this to our heart’s content. It is death as far as anyone getting paid for it is concerned.
To get through a lot of images it is a good thing to apply the 2 second rule. Any image that does not hold your attention for longer than 2 seconds delete. No ifs’ no buts’ no maybes’. Two seconds, it appears, is about 4 times longer than it takes to form an opinion of a photograph. Anything longer is not going to make an image any better.
Then we can start working on those that are left. There are a number of different ways of doing this and everyone develops their own, but there has to be a reason for making each decision. I am doing this because … It is always because, as, as far as learning goes, there is no more powerful word in the English language than because.
So, at this point, grab the camera and off we go ….
Club evenings with cameras are always popular and always a good opportunity to gain knowledge and practice the basics, or try something a little different. Last meeting was no exception as we undertook an evening of tabletop photography, for which the club is grateful for all those who put a lot of effort into making the evening a success.
Theses themed evenings aren’t just about the theme and or subject. They are a chance to get the most out of a controlled situation, specifically, at least for our purposes this week, the chance to work a subject. Now working the scene, or a variation of it, is a phrase that often bandied about.
Sooner rather than later you will come across Henri Cartier-Bresson and the idea of the decisive moment, and certainly in any scene that involves movement there is, or will be a combination of the elements in the frame for which their interplay makes the full story. Is it the same with table top/still life? Essentially yes, but the control in the frame is pretty much absolute and the truth in the frame may be entirely documentary or an arrangement of light on shape in some artistically pleasing manner. The chaos of everyday life is excluded in pursuit of control either way.
So what do we mean by working the scene? Cartier-Bresson didn’t just take one photograph of a scene, even if the first one was the one he ended up using. Nor anyone else. Closer, further away, left, right, up, down all realign the elements, the task is then to isolate the best image to work with.
With table top, though, there isn’t necessarily a lot of room to work with, nonetheless it is still worth the effort. Whether you change the camera angle or the arrangement of the items you are photographing you can still affect the same sort of ends. The end result, the one you show, is then more likely to be better at communicating with your audience because it is the end result of a process.
There is also a question, further prompted by the idea of the end result, of whether you can do this moving around in time. If your intent is to capture something that has to be constructed before you take a picture of the end result, why not photograph that construction? It could well be that the image that you end up keeping is one that shows all the elements but not the whole. That whole is then constructed in the mind of the viewer.
The whole point is that of collecting data deliberately. From this data we then make a story. Changing the angle/distance/perspective creates a pause and in that pause we can process the data we have collected. We can turn these to our own advantage with a little pre planning. Whilst framing the image we can be critical of what we are looking at, now that we have put a physical frame around it.
Put simply we start seeing when we stop looking. Look is the hook, the thing that caught our eye, the draw in. Seeing takes a lot more effort and experimentation, but seeing is the essence of photography. It also means that we can practice this, using table top, at home, through experimentation and starting with the tools of composition. Two to start with, I suggest are light and dark and lines.
Light and dark in its purest form, black-white (the Japanese Notan art form for instance) or at the least two complimentary colours. Contrast is what the eye, rather like the autofocus on our cameras, looks for, so as to make things clear. Use this as a key to where the light falls and with a little practice we can make powerful yet subtle ways that take the eyes of the viewer to where the photographer wants them.
Lines are, possibly, less subtle but no less powerful for that. We are largely familiar with the concept of leading lines whether we are conscious of their effect or not. Anyone who has seen white lines on tarmac will have been affected by it. Anyone who has ever followed a path will have been effected by it. By getting close, looking for the key detail, we better frame the thing that attracted us in the first place.
There are of course a myriad of other compositional tools we can use, we can practice. Composition is just a way of seeing in one sense. In a more useful sense it is a deliberate way of seeing. We need to practice with deliberation. Stuck for something to do? Then pick one of these compositional tools and use it to go shoot. The table top environment allows us to experiment in these cases by arranging the elements in our frame to our own ends. In other environments we have to look for the chances to capture these things on a more random basis, but in doing so we have to abandon looking for seeing.
N E X T M E E T I NG
Annual General Meeting.