Last week we talked about the concept of visual weight, the idea that objects in a frame, depending on their position, colour or mass, draw the eye around an image and that we photographers can take advantage of this.
So this week we are going to take the opportunity to look at some other tools of composition and the opportunities they give us to reveal just a little bit more. These tools evolve around seven basic ideas, in no particular order: line, shape, form, texture, pattern colour and space. These were more and less in the background of what we discussed last week and in a past post about Gestalt Principles.
First up is the tool of odds. Impanumerophobics aside (persons with a fear of odd numbers) the human brain has an affinity with odd numbers. Were I to speculate why it would be to say that odd numbers make it easier for the brain to determine a middle.
If we can determine a middle then we are as far as we can be from right or wrong, more likely a manifestation of the heard instinct and the fact that predators stalk the fringes for the young, sick and old who will make for a lower energy expenditure in the hunt.
Or maybe not.
We find the balance comforting, and in truth a single frame will possibly hold no more than five items comfortably and certainly three in a frame is commonly found, or groups of three or five. An exercise in looking for them, as is an exercise in looking for any of these tools, is a good exercise in looking with a purpose and that is one of the keys to making a strong image. It as much about exclusion as inclusion.
Diagonals are also a powerful composition tools and are often bracketed in with triangles as occurrences that build “Dynamic tension” sometimes known as visual tension. All these tools are methods to create a focal point or points in a frame.
The diagonals and the triangles can either be actual or implied, The key is to move our point of view until we get those visual clues in line and the frame balances out the way we want. This can mean font and back (zooming with our feet) up and down and even a bit of Dutching, maybe a combination of these.
Re-framing is a good habit to nurture. “Working the Angles”, to give it another name, a.k.a. “Working the Scene” gives us more options. We see the world from a relatively fixed position.
This is the “mistake” most photographers make, not altering that position, or at least leaving it at that. The image remains the photographers view of the object, it tells us a lot about the photographer’s view but maybe there is more to be made of the point of view of the subject and/or the subjects environment.
The stronger visual stories are those that have a strong point of focus, where our eye as the viewer first falls and where it is lead to next. This is the dynamic bit of that dynamic tension we were talking about earlier. The movement of the eye across the frame, purposefully driven by what the photographer has chosen to show and what to exclude.
More tools of composition to help you practice seeing are the subject of the main blog this week. There is no level of skill that these do not apply to, but there is considerable skill in knowing when to break those guidelines and in doing so make a different but still effective image.
Neither is this the case of being born with a talent, though the right talent is a boon to have. A lot of people pass over the fact that working hard on something is a talent in itself, and certainly it is the core skill in developing in any field.
We tend to forget that we are surrounded by objects in our everyday lives that we can make into mini photo projects. Watch the following video and choose three ideas to replicate and improve on over a week or weekend. You don’t have to spend hours on one, in fact limiting your time can force you into decisions, which can tell you a lot when reviewed. Video link is here.
We were entertained by the members who went on the club run to the Lake District back in May, this week, and certainly, they got a lot of the same views, but they weren’t the same shots. This goes to show the worth of “working the angle” even when you are in wide open spaces populated only by hordes of tourists in large busses on narrow roads. Apparently, our Esteemed Chair indulged his passengers with novel language lessons when these pantechnicons and sundry other road users broke the unwritten etiquette of British roads. An enhanced learning experience all round then.
Now non-landscapers can have rather jaundiced views of those who revel in long walks to nowhere in particular and back carrying kit they end up not using and still not get the shot because the light was “wrong”, but that is to miss the point. Landscape as a discipline brings with it challenges and techniques, not all of them specific to this category of photography, broad as it is and possibly viewed as a subcategory of Nature. There are some car parks with very fine views, after all, and if we can’t actually see any tarmac in the picture …… we get the same view as the previous 100,000 motorists who preceded us. It is, however, our version of it and that, for most amateurs is what counts. It’s our version of Kilroy was here.
Picking not only the vista but having a focal point in it, making the picture about something, is a big step as opposed to ooh-pretty-point-shoot. “Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment ” according to Ansel Adams. Planning is the key, not only to getting the photograph we want from what is in front of us but in creating further opportunities for us to take. Our aim is to make a picture of one thing in relation to its setting without letting the setting overpower the picture we are looking to frame. That can be done hours/days/weeks/months/years before we leave home, or on-site and in the moment. But taking a short time to really look makes a difference.
In that short time, what we are looking for is composition. There are as many “Rules” of composition as you want. Except rules is a bit misleading as a term. Think of them as tools. The Tools of Composition. Essentially these are ways of guiding the eye to the subject in ways that suggest meaning to the viewer. The question is how we use them together. Quality is better than quantity, you need to be deliberate and you need to be able to work fast and with the light. It is all about the light, regardless of what style of photography you are partaking in. OK photography means, roughly, painting with light, so it’s hardly a surprise.
The best light is at dawn and dusk as far as landscapers are concerned. Low angle soft light in the warm end of the spectrum coming from or moving towards the blues of twilight. The best shooting light is commonly held to be roughly half an hour either side of those two events. That leaves the rest of the day for other things – which probably explains the notion that landscaping is a solitary sort of pursuit. Certainly, it doesn’t necessarily easily fall in with the plans of others.
There are other costs to landscape as you get more into it. A good tripod for one, the reason being minimum ISO’s and small apertures tend to be the order of the day. Marry that with low light levels and we need to be accommodating exposures that are too long to hand hold without showing considerable signs of camera shake. Lenses tend towards a wide/super-wide and medium telephoto – and everything in between and either side depending upon the depth of your pockets and your penchant for collecting expensive pieces of kit. Then there are the filters. At least a circular polarizer. Then there are hard and soft graduated filters for equalising out the light in the sky to that falling on the ground. Investing in a quality set of filters is not cheap, but pays dividends in the quality and clarity of what you are getting. You are, after all, adding glass in front of glass and that will have an effect on quality. And don’t forget a waterproof, solid, comfortable bag to keep all that expensive kit in.
As usual, it isn’t about the kit. As Mike Browne has been known to opine, nobody says to Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsey “You must have a really good oven” when enjoying their world-class cuisine. Good photography is the product of practice, knowledge, practice, planning, practice, willingness to learn, practice, a critical eye, practice, hard work and practice. There is also technique, practice, willingness to pushing our limits, practice, getting to know our cameras, lenses and other kit inside out, practice, and practice, but you get the general idea.
It was an entertaining evening, for sure, and we thank our fellow members for their time effort and willingness to share.
Here’s something or nothing. Did you realise that we, as photographers, take images in additive (Red, Green, Blue or RGB) and print in subtractive (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black or CMYK, the K stands for Key) colours? Explains, partially, why we have printer profiles I suppose, but as the last session was about editing and the previous was about composition and we have talked about colour space before, which impacts on what we will be talking about here, it seems proper that we talk about colour in a little more depth.
It matters way beyond photography though. In a much quoted survey, “92.6 percent said that they put most importance on visual factors when purchasing products. Only 5.6 percent said that the physical feel via the sense of touch was most important. Hearing and smell each drew 0.9 percent.
When asked to approximate the importance of color (sic) when buying products, 84.7 percent of the total respondents think that color (sic) accounts for more than half among the various factors important for choosing products”.
Source: Secretariat of the Seoul International Color Expo 2004
“92% Believe color (sic) presents an image of impressive quality
90% Feel color (sic) can assist in attracting new customers
90% Believe customers remember presentations and documents better when color (sic) is used
83% Believe color (sic) makes them appear more successful
81% Think color (sic) gives them a competitive edge
76% Believe that the use of color (sic) makes their business appear larger to clients”
Source: Conducted by Xerox Corporation and International Communications Research from February 19, 2003 to March 7, 2003, margin of error of +/- 3.1%.
Colour perceptions and the way that colour works is vastly important, yet most photographers, even the ones who know about the colour wheel and might even know some colour theory, don’t always use it to the maximum advantage probably because we take the environment that we are capturing as outside of our control. Studio work excepted, where control is, can be, total. It will help us to be aware of why colour and shape attract us in the first place and a little understanding of colour theory, including the psychological and emotional effects of colour, can be made to go a long way.
Using colours effectively can have a big impact. we can use it to draw the eye, tell a story or change the mood. HDR often suffers from being what I call beige, that is the colours are muted and squashed together in spectrum which certainly gives them a look, but not necessarily a pleasant one. Shooting in RAW really helps here because if you desaturate to black and white and get a very grey image then it is telling you something. Altering the sliders for individual colours has an effect, even in black and white, and can help balance things more to your taste. Why RAW? Because RAW gives you more. More data to affect the final outcome. JPEG isn’t terminal here it is just limiting.
Whilst we are on the subject of sliders, saturation is more often than not the guilty party. Saturation is the intensity of a colour. Value, which is related is the brightness or darkness of a colour, gives you the same saturation but it effects the visibility of that colour on screen. Between them you can get a range of shades. Highly saturated colours are very shouty. A whole image made up of saturated colours can be overwhelming unless very skilfully applied.
The idea that certain colours complement each other is as old as the ideas of colour and art go and nature cottoned on the signal properties of colour long before humanity came along. What follows is a jaunt around the colour wheel from a solo trip to several in company. The simplest colour harmony is one where a single colour predominates. Monochrome. Best for single subjects and striking effects, How photographic in principle can you get? It can be a wash of sepia or a cyanotype, the striking light of the rising or setting sun, or a single colour like a red, a pink, a green a yellow or any other colour that works. The next circuit is one in the company of near neighbours, analogous harmonies. These are the colours that are adjacent to each other on the wheel, the ones either side of the primary colour we are looking at. It tends to create feelings of comfort in the viewer, no jarring opposites to clash with our senses. Any landscaper or natural photographer will tell you it is most often found in nature.
Things start to get a little bit more complicated with the triadic. Think of a clock with hour, minute and second hands permanently at a 120 degree separation, so pointing, for instance at 12 4 and 8 on the dial or 1,5 and 9, 2,6 and 10 etc. It can be quite difficult to pull off but it is very striking. The one we have all probably heard of is the complementary, opposite sides of the colour wheel through the full 360 degrees (well, logically 180 degrees as you have then covered everything in the full circle but that might be being picky). They really are the two colours that go best with each other but rarely, very rarely, do they work when in equal amounts. There needs to be an imbalance, probably in favour of the less strident of the two colours (green, if red and green, blue if yellow and blue for instance) because the other way round throws the whole scene out of balance because of where the eye is drawn.
So why leave it there, why not complicate it by using split complimentary colours? Well why not. Similar to the basic complimentary, what it does is split the range of one end of the opposites between two analogous colours, it’s an hour earlier than the triadic on our imaginary colour watch, so 12 is complimented by colours at 5 and 7 o’clock (red by blue and green for example) 1 by 6 and 8, 2 by 7 and 9. But, I know, that is not complicated enough for you, well, sir, madam, out the back and for very special customers only, we have the tetrad. Now this comes in two flavours. The rectangle and the square. Basically four corners arranged around the wheel or two sets of complimentary colours. Again the application should be in favour of the weaker colours or you will get a mess. And if that doesn’t produce something close enough to a dog’s dinner then you can try the adjacent tetrad, same principle but the complementaries are immediately next to each other on the wheel. Multi colour schemes are extremely difficult to control but might be found in the built environment. For those you have to trust your eye or make it the story of the image.
So, in your studio, light tent, bokeh creations or in the wild, but MOST particularly in post production, don’t over-do the saturation; use high contrast values to get the viewing eye’s attention; use colour harmonies (there others in addition to the ones we have looked at) to maximise impact.
One very good resource you want to look at if you want to take this forward is the remarkably informative and flexible Adobe colour (OK Color) wheel.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Portrait Evening: Photographing a couple of models with studio lights and backdrops.
Philippa Wood AWPF CPAGB AFIAP, ably supported by husband Peter, took us on a tour of the Scillies and the Gower Peninsular as part of their own grand tour this week that took in Preston, Reflex, then moved on to South Wales before culminating in emigrating to Australia on Sunday (our best wishes go with them) – and that only covers the week from Thursday! The theme that stood out for me from Philippa’s presentation was detail, specifically ideas of repetition and rhythm, and I want to investigate this in the blog this week. Think of this as one of those “Making of” features film makers marketing departments flog off to television channels, where we have been charged with getting the picture that encapsulates a 90 minute film over which they can run the end credits and use as a film poster.
Our brief from the art director tells us that we will have to get all our elements together so that they are governed by a rule of composition, either balanced within our frame to create harmony or unbalanced to create tension, but governed by a single point or object more dominant than the rest to give us a fighting chance at capturing a simple, effective strong story. Detail will be the key.
Even using a planetary view, we can’t get everything in. That means that we are going to have to select. Selection is the basis of composition. Last week we talked about the extremes of selection, macro and astro, but even when taking pictures of the Milky Way we are going to have to select foreground and we have to select the correct piece of the sky. The guiding principle of the photograph we want to take is the story that we want it to tell. Lets assume that our metaphorical movie is an action thriller. The rules of composition we have visited many times. They are not the story, they are a means of supporting the story. How we make the picture isn’t as important as what we decide we are going to put in it. Compositional rules help connect with the viewer but they won’t be what the viewer takes away with them from the picture. That is a lot more complicated. We like what we know, we are challenged by what we don’t. The rules of composition are there to entice us, to engage with what we sometimes don’t know and might otherwise reject. It makes it easier for the audience to engage with our photograph when we have decided what the story of that image is – and before we press the shutter. Phillipa’s journey was expressed through her photographs and her illuminating narrative, which included showing some misfires and discussing what made them so.
Let’s approach this from a slightly different angle (always a good idea in photography). Going back to the presentation that Damien Lovegrove gave us last July. At one point he made up a wild story about the life history of one of the models in his shoot (we know it was wild because he admitted that he had made it up in order to illustrate the way we project our own experiences and preferences on a photograph). When he broke the illusion we looked at it in a different, possibly diminished light. His first two rules of taking a photograph are: “Know your shot” and “Make your subject part of the process”. OK the second one makes more immediate sense in portraiture, but could also mean getting down to the right level for that shot of the bee on the flower, picking the key feature that makes that building interesting, or not being timid about tilting the lens down to frame out that non-descript sky “…Because it’s entirely an artist’s eye, patience and skill that makes an image and not his tools” (Ken Rockwell).
Composition, then, is the imposition of rules within a frame of our choosing – basically where we point the business end of our cameras and how much of the viewfinder is taken up with what we are pointing the business end at. Symmetry is very powerful, it indulges our brains cravings for order. 50% of our brains processing capacity goes to making sense of what we can see. 70% of the bodies receptors (things that gather environmental data which the brain processes into assumptions, priorities and actions) are in the eyes. We can make sense of something we see in about a tenth of a second as a result of these two facilities. The brain takes about 250milliseconds to process and attach a meaning to a symbol – that’s why we have road signs not road memos! Colour amplifies meaning greatly in these basic calculations.
This is why, when sorting through your photographs, a very strong guide to the keepers are only those that hold our attention longer than 2 seconds. Be ruthless at this, because we will start to attach meanings to the ones we wanted to” come out better” (aka excuses) and consequently that will add up a whole heap of storage over nothing of real value. It’s like when we were seven and told to clean the rubbish out of our room – everything means something, so what is rubbish? Yes that toy is broken but I don’t want it gone, I can still have fun with it. In fact it is now officially my favourite toy etc etc. Thus, through self-deception is the Devil in the detail and we enslave Photoshop as his instrument.
But we were talking about symmetry. Symmetry we use to alter the meaning of a photograph. Think of a landscape. Where we place the horizon makes that picture about the foreground or the sky depending on where we place the horizon in a photograph. Go to your local church, especially, but not exclusively, one of the old style ones. Look at how the symmetry gives power to the space we are in. It is the same for a cathedral as it is for a parish church, just we are that much smaller in relation to the cathedral sacred space and with that comes a sense of power and structure and order (and your place in it). Look for symmetry to photograph, we will find beauty in it.
Repetition gives us predictability and in a system that has three initial responses to sudden change, flight, fight or, most often, freeze, our brains find repetition comforting, because of the predictability. Rhythm is a little more complex, visually. Rhythm is made up of visual elements that are repeated. Generally, very generally, a low number of repetitions give a photograph a slow rhythm. A high number of repetitions give an image a more intense, faster rhythm. It can be quite a difficult concept to grasp but it is an observable phenomenon. Again colour can have an effect and as club member Adrian Cook showed us back in January, horizontal, vertical, diagonal and converging lines are instrumental in making patterns to give impressions of depth and scale and effect the rhythm of a composition.
Then we come to where put these things in our frame. This is where the concepts of thirds, fifths, sevenths and “Golden ratio” enhance the ideas, the story elements, of our image. It has been said by more than one speaker and by several competition judges that the best photographs tell one story only. We do not start with these for a reason and that would be, quite simply, that if we did there would be no need to take the lens cap off to get a “good” picture as they would all be present in the pitch black. If we start with these then we are making our job that much harder. Start with the detail, the heroine of our action thriller and give her the right setting to keep our viewers enthralled. Have her dominating the situation to give our readers a comfortable feeling of control or out of balance in her situation to create tension for them. Make her the single point of dominance in action or being acted upon but always, always keep the focus on her through her allies and co-conspirators, the rules of composition.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
NEXT MEETING: DO NOT go to the club but meet in Queens Square. Practical session, bring your cameras and be there from around 7pm Thursday 7th May.
DO enter the clubs monthly Flickr competiton, club members also get to vote on their preferences.
Andy Beel FRPS (Blog) was the evening’s judge in the Reflex Open Competition Round 2 2014/15 for which there was a high number of entries for both the Digital and Print Sections. The club extends our thanks to him for his time and considerations. Andy is a confirmed monochromatisist and it was his observations on dark and light that suggested the topics of this week’s blog be contrast, extending the conversation started last week by Mark Stone, and framing.
Before we get to the results I just need to clear up the matter of dimensions for the digital images and the digital version of the prints being entered in the competition, as there was some confusion about this among members.
As it says on the competition page the maximum dimensions are 1400 by 1050 pixels. Now to expand on what this doesn’t mean before moving to what it does. What it doesn’t mean is that the maximum landscape (width) dimension is 1400 pixels regardless of height, nor does it mean that the maximum portrait (height) is 1050 pixels regardless of width.
What this does mean is that the maximum dimensions are 1400 pixels AND 1050 pixels and that the image submitted MUST fit within, or under, these dimensions. To put it another way, the maximum of either width or height must not exceed either 1400 or 1050 for any single image – they are viewed as dimensions together regardless of whether the image is framed landscape or portrait.
IF your image is not in the ratio of 4:3, and APS C and Full Frame are not (width to height a.k.a. the Aspect Ratio) then it is possible that one of the dimensions will fall outside of the 1400 and 1050 pixel limits. Look at both and scale it back as necessary. If your image is 1400 x 1051 or more or 1401 or more pixels x 1050 then it must be resized down to within the competition limits. It does not matter what that does to the other dimension as long as it is at or below the stated maximum. Check both to be sure. This is also the rule for most club and salon competitions elsewhere, I am lead to believe.
If you don’t know how to do this with any existing editing software you have, may I suggest pic-resize on the net for an easy to use and free solution.
And so to the meat of this blog – the Reflex Open Competition 2014/15 Round 2.
There was a lot of close competition here, the quality of entries continues to improve across the spectrum, which can only be good thing. Entering these competitions is a sound way to improve through valuable feedback and I think it show signs of working for the majority of us. If you haven’t entered anything yet, give it a go – you have nothing to lose and a lot to gain!
“1925“ – Wendy O’Brien
“Economy“ – Steve Halam
“Feeding“ – Ian Coombs
3rd “Religion” – Eddie Deponeo
2nd “Dancer in the final pose“ – Julia Simone
1st “Abandoned“ – Mark O’Grady.
“Vampire in the wind” – Julia Simone.
“Dark Ages“ – Ian Coombs.
“Unearthed Beauty“ – Mark O’Grady.
3rd “Lost But Not Forgotten“ Ian Coombs.
2nd “Hospital Nightmare“ Suzanne King.
1st “Vacant Stare“ Mark O’Grady.
Congratulations to them and thanks to all the entrants and of course Mark and Mark for getting it all together and making it happen on the night.
Andy was very specific about using dynamism within an image, concentrating the viewers eye using lightening and darkening. This brings us onto the role of contrast. The eye tends to move from light to dark and Andy pointed out that stray bits of light, especially on the edges of pictures, makes the eye wander and the story of that image can lose some of its narrative integrity. Light, of course, is everything, but without a counterpoint, the darker bits, it is nothing. So far so much egg sucking. In black and white the control of contrast along with the control of composition are the major factors in organising the image (OK in colour too but in a different sense as discussed last week).
"Contrast is the difference in luminance and/or color that makes an object (or its representation in an image or display) distinguishable. In visual perception of the real world, contrast is determined by the difference in the color and brightness of the object and other objects within the same field of view. Because the human visual system is more sensitive to contrast than absolute luminance, we can perceive the world similarly regardless of the huge changes in illumination over the day or from place to place. The maximum contrast of an image is the contrast ratio or dynamic range". Wikipedia
There is, of course, a wider and equally as pertinent meaning to contrast in photography, that of the relative positioning of objects but this post is more about the light and dark of it. Practically and to us this means practising Ansel Adams dictum of exposing for the highlights and processing for the shadows, regardless of whether we are talking black and white or colour, RAW, TIFF, JPEG or anything in between. This is simply because we can recover detail that is in shadow by selective processing. If it is blown out, i.e. rendered as white, there is very little to recover. What is there will run over a very narrow spectrum that runs from “Virtually nothing” to “Nothing” in a very short space. We thereby give ourselves the best chance to have something to work with at the extremes, the blacks and the whites (which are at opposite ends of an evenly distributed histogram, blacks to the left and whites to the right) by exposing for the whites. Sort of. Detail is also absent in pure black. This of course has an effect on the shadows, mid-tones and highlights, but these (five) in turn can be adjusted – Ye-Acolytes-Of-Photoshop will be aware that there is a slider for each of these in Lightroom. These five “Zones” bear a relation to Adams and Archer’s 10 zone system, but let’s not stretch a point too far, suffice it to say they are different ways of talking about the same thing, Adams and Archer for Print and Adobe for digital. Each of these can be adjusted to taste or requirement to affect an overall impression.
That impression, though, can be lost or diluted if the framing allows for distracting detail and in passing judgement on more than one of the entries. Andy indicated that this held them back from an award. The frame or crop, he posits, must be tight. Extraneous detail starts to water down the story or introduce a new one. There is only room for one story in each photograph.
There is a three dimensional layering to the two dimensional photograph created by the perception of foreground, middle ground and background and the story is often revealed through how these interact. What is going on in relation to these three layers is the story the image is telling. Look at what is in the corners can you use it to make it more dynamic? was Andy’s tip. Andy suggested that the strongest stories use this dynamic to keep the attention which generally goes directly to the brightest and or largest object in the frame. This is usually (not always, not even preferably – you know, all that thirds, fifths sevenths and “Golden ratio” stuff) centre mid-ground, where, if you follow what has been said above, it most likely loses impact. Impact comes from filling the frame and from the juxtaposition of elements within it. From his long experience with monochrome Andy related that in Black and White especially, but in colour too, light surrounded by dark works best and so several images fell by the wayside.
It was a very successful night and thanks to everyone who attended, judged, administered, entered to make the whole thing possible. Next week is the clubs Xmas celebration. See you there.
Time is running out but there are still places on the WOODLAND shoot. See Myk.
December 11th – The second round of this year’s Reflex Open Competition (ROC) will be judged tonight.
December 18th – Christmas social evening. To quote Mark S (again):
” Thursday 18th December is our Christmas Social. We’re planning on doing an American Supper style evening which means we’d like you to bring some food & drink. So that you don’t all bring in a pack of Scotch Eggs we’ve created a list that will be on the sign in desk each week up until the 18th. If you’d like to take a look at what is on the list just peek at the PDF attached to this post.
8TH January 2015“What Christmas Means to me” & Mounting Prints
See everyone’s images from our Christmas Challenge of “What Christmas Means to me” followed by a demonstration on how to mount your photographs.
I bet your wondering what this “What Christmas means to me” thing is as you’ve possibly never even heard it mentioned at the club before. Well now I’ve had it explained to me with a handy infographic I can explain it all to you. Well actually no I’m not instead you can follow this link and read all about it as that’s exactly the same way I found out what it was!
15th January 2015: Club Battle, Bristol Photographic Society (Away).
22nd January 2015: Colour Space Editing. Tutorial (part 1) Practical (part 2). Bring your Lap Top!
The WCPF Travelling Critique did a sterling job of standing in without our scheduled speaker last meeting when we looked at the club competition for projected images won by Dorchester narrowly beating Bristol Photographic Society. It suggests two strands I want to discuss in this weeks’ blog. At the end of the series and before we went onto the 10×10 and Mark’s mini photoshop tutorial (thanks to Wendy G, Mark S and Eddie H for making that possible), I was put in mind of my grandfather’s culinary maxim, one which I think will stand for any man not prepared to waste time stuffing a mushroom, that “When it’s brown it’s done, when, it’s black it’s bugg***d”. It has served me well, though black pudding is something of a contentious area. It came to mind given the amount of, admittedly very well executed, post production work that, on the brown-black ancestral culinary continuum (hence forth the BBACC) suggested above, was certainly more brown than black but does that still leave it fundamentally bugg***d?
I have alluded before to the factions of Ye-Acolytes-of-Photoshop and the Get-It-Right-In-the-Camera-istas and in truth both have an argument in context – Dan Thomas (www.danyt.co.uk) talked about the removal of noise when using high ISO’s from poorly lit weddings i.e. when you are being paid to get the shot in conditions that are presented to you and certainly I can’t see a sensible argument against that; I talked about taking time to get it right in the camera when you have the time and luxury of a product shot in a controlled situation and though I am often to be found arguing with myself, I hold to that opinion as a start point. “The right way” (as alluded to in Sir Ken Robinson’s oh-so-right TED talk recorded a couple of years back) is a dangerous place to start in any creative endeavour, so often it is about defending the dominant way, so when we have categories and standards are we enforcing a “right way” that has more to do with fashion than correctness?
From the last WCPF post on prints I suggested that there are frameworks that can be used to give a logical and comparable basis for talking about images and I suggested a funnel that states your:
- First, broad, emotions when presented with the image (because of my….)
- Likes/Dislikes (because they….)
- Provoke these thoughts and feelings (because the handling of…)
- The technical aspects – light/focus/foreign objects/crop/exposure/saturation etc show and – (because the ….)
- Overall artistic impressions of composition, colour, subject matter lead to …. (because these)
- Particular aspects appeal … and (because…)
- Adjusting these aspects would change the image by … (and this all adds up to the image communicating …. because)
- Of these technical and artistic merits.
I don’t claim particular authorship of it – it’s an adaption of something I was given for appreciating poetry some years ago and there is a very similar version on Wikihow, on Examiner.com on expertphotograpahy.com a dozen other sites at least and on the Anthony Morganti YouTube Channel to name but a few. What it is, is a way of being consistent about approaching looking at photographs. So far so not news. It is why there are training panels for WCPF judges (among others) why there are advice notes for RPS distinction panels, et cetera, et cetera. However, as we all know, as soon as you put someone else in the frame, viewer, judge, then the subjective elements become more contentious.
So how do these two things tie in? There were some very well executed images that were patently unnatural in their presentation. So what? All images are artefacts, something made by artificial means. There were some very natural looking images that one suspects were expertly manipulated – despite the WCPF’s best efforts to present the lowest quality image compatible with projection and partially at least, rather diminishing the technical angles, but such is the world of copyright theft that I understand why they do it. So what was being judged, the photography or the post processing?
In part that isn’t really a fair question. A very high percentage of club, any club, photography will have some degree of post production so the only logical answer to the question is both. When viewing a “finished” image it is the final product we judge because it is the final product we are presented with. That is a pretty sterile, and somewhat circular (it is what it is because it is), argument. Move it a little and we might find another answer. Are we judging camera skills and computer skills? Is photography, in the competitive sense, now about painting with light and manipulating with image editing programmes and what is the balance?
This isn’t just idle speculation – only a few of us are capable at our current development levels of producing images as consistently good as the ones that were on display. This actually goes to the heart of club competitions. The judges we have had have all – well those who turned up, anyway – made the point that there are only small gaps between the best of the novice and the advanced category pictures. This in turn begs the question why have the two categories? I believe that there is a need for two categories and that lies in the diminishing number of entries to the competitions – novice print is all but dead on its feet. That is possibly a sign of times and the print/projection categories may no longer be meaningful. It shouldn’t mask the possibility that entering a competition that you have no chance of winning is a futile exercise for some – why put yourself up for a public slating? It isn’t futile, but that comes back to the points made by Sir Ken Robinson and the attitudes to “failure”. The only way we truly fail that way is to not engage, but we want to get it “right”.
This is where the idea of a standard becomes useful. The things you have to get technically correct (in camera preferably) but can also be helped along with a little post processing voodoo. There are compositional things that may look good as t-shirt slogans such as: “Viva the rule of thirds” “Fifths are for Landscapers!” and “Remember the Golden sections!”; “Long Live the harmonies of the colour wheel”; “The midday sun is for siesta not photography”, “Diagonals are dramatic darling”! “Eliminate dead space!”; “Don’t put your subject in the middle of the frame, Mrs Robinson!” and so on. All of which I have and you have, seen smashed to good effect. The general rule still remains you have to be able to make it before you can break it and so, like the appreciation framework, this gives us a guide.
We take those competition rules and we put them into our images and we enter the images into club competitions and get feedback from people who have a lot of experience at giving feedback (even if it is difficult to overcome some of their all too obvious dis/liking for some subjects and treatments). We use that feedback to get our next competition image better regarded. We take all the feedback from all the images in the competitions and we try them out on our own. This is where the community aspect of the club comes in. We enter the competitions to get help others as well as ourselves and the creative sessions and the competitions and the presentations all come together. It has to be a balance between the art and the craft and the competitions. The more entries the better in this regard. Where’s yours?
Small steps, but ones that get us to see more before we press the shutter. We know when this has taken effect when we start framing everyday things in our minds eye as if it were through a view finder – and most of us carry a camera of some sort pretty much every day. And does it matter about the amount of post-production? Well, as a rule of thumb, when it’s brown it’s done, when it’s black, it’s bugg***d.
NEXT WEEK Club Annual General Meeting.