As for all the arts and works emanating from the heart and mind, we need that spark for our creations. Like wordsmiths who can have writer’s block, image-makers on occasions can also feel unimaginative and face a blank canvas. Here’s how I counter such moments of drudgery and awaken a sleeping creativity.
1. Go on location
The most enthusiastic lensman can capture exquisite images right from his home or backyard. But sometimes it takes a trip outside into the big wide world to give us photographic ideas and insights. Nature never fails to inspire the artist in us. It may not be a grand adventure or expedition but simply a walk in the beach, fishing by the lake, a picnic on a forest reserve. The breath of fresh air and views of new surroundings is sure to stimulate senses and get you grabbing that camera, seeing the world through the viewfinder.
2. View works of the masters
Bless the internet as we can see in an instant the works of the legends – Ansel Adams, Henri-Cartier Bresson, Diane Arbus, Annie Leibovitz and many more. Professionalphotographer.co.uk lists 100 Most influential photographers of all time with links to their works. I get a kick reading on their biography, how they started in photography and how they found their style. Viewing their masterpieces, for me, is an enriching experience. We may never get to reach their level, but surely we can learn a thing or two from their pioneering and innovative efforts.
3. View works of enthusiasts
The masters may teach us, yet it is the works of like-minded photography enthusiasts that influences me and keeps me grounded on reality. At this time when everyone with a smartphone can snap any picture, I actually explore Flickr and other photo sites as well as pages of photo bloggers here at WordPress, looking out for those exceptional images that stand out. I read about the photographer, their experiences, the camera settings they use to take images. It thrills me that I can be of the same level with outstanding enthusiasts, as I can never be with the masters.
4. Join a camera club
We may be members of online groupings, participating in chats and forums to learn from others. However, nothing beats joining a physical camera club where you get to brush elbows with friends and peers. Social engagement is now taken for granted what with all the social media sites around. But “facebooking” or “flickring” is never like the inspired experience of an actual photo shoot/photo walk with your club buddies.
5. Be alone
Social is good. But the clutter and chatter of our fast-paced, noisy environment distracts us from the art of “seeing” or “sensing.” I found that a place of quiet and contemplation, where the soul can be calm and the mind refreshed, can unleash imagination and vision.
Creativity is not an on or off thing like a toggle switch that can be activated at the flick of a finger. Artists are an emotional and expressive batch and they can have moods, sometimes bountiful with a wellspring of inspiration flowing continuously, at times dark and empty, an abyss of nothingness. There are moments we need to find our muse and there are things we can do to realize that. How about you, where do you draw inspiration for your images?
Have a great week ahead!
The most active of shapes use diagonal lines – the triangle is an eye-catching building block for your picture. Its three sides also introduce odd numbers into the photographic vocabulary. As well as triangular-shaped subjects, think about the structure of your photograph – are there three elements you could join together with imaginary lines to form a triangle?
Four sided shapes such as squares and rectangles mirror the four sides of the picture frame – there’s no conflict there, so the viewing experience isn’t as absorbing. However, they can be used alongside diagonals and triangles to produce a more exciting image.
~Digital Camera Magazine: Master Composition
Every image needs strong underlying compositional order so that it grabs the eye from a hundred feet away…If it can’t grab the eye from a distance, it will never be an interesting photo, regardless of how many fine details it might have. Details don’t matter if there’s no story behind it.~Ken Rockwell
1. Great B&W images tend to be simple, with their main components isolated and easy to identify.
2. Great B&W images tend to have depth and dimension – usually accomplished by creating visual layers that extend from the foreground to the background and all points in between.
3. Great B&W images rely on shape and/or form to make up the image. Hue and color distractions are gone. Only the shapes or forms made up by objects remain and can be arranged in such a manner that they draw the eye into or out of the photograph at the appropriate time and place.
4. Great B&W images tend to exploit contrast. The difference between the whitest white and the blackest black is the highest contrast point in the picture and this can be used to draw the viewer’s eye. Good contrast can help add depth and dimension as well.
5. Great B&W images rely on tone and texture to take the place of color and hue. This can be accomplished in many ways. Texture for instance can be enhanced with side lighting. Sometimes high ISOs are used to emulate film grain for more texture.
6. Great B&W images often rely on patterns to draw the eye into the subject of the photo. It helps form shapes and designate important elements in any B&W scene.
7. Great B&W images tend to minimize the background and accentuate the foreground. While this is not always true, if you look at the bulk of the work of some of the great old-time B&W masters, you’ll find this technique used in many of their images, particularly portraits.
~Scott Bourne from his article Seven Elements That Help Make A Great Black & White Photograph
Wishing you all a refreshing weekend!
Here’s a sample collection of boat images that I have used in my previous posts (some of them from my earliest postings – more than 560 so far in the last nine months). Thank you all for the visit, views, likes and follows during the boat week. I hope you enjoyed the images. Till next week when we embark on another picture series. Thanks!
My subject, the boy in his banca (local canoe), is out of focus. That is obvious enough. Well, I was in another banca rocking and swaying in that late afternoon when the waters were rising and the tides were becoming restless when I took this shot. I wasn’t in a stable and steady footing in the first place. When I reviewed this image in my computer I was tempted to delete it. However, I had second thoughts simply because taking the picture as a whole I thought was greater than the sum of its parts. The cloud formation, the colors of a sunset peeking through the horizon, the portion of an island, and the subtle green waters were enough to convince me to keep this. Maybe I exact a high standard for myself when it comes to image making, which is good as I see every photographic opportunity as a challenge. But heck, I don’t work for National Geographic hence my photos need not be perfect. In relation to that, my audience and perennial critic first and foremost is myself. A slightly blurred subject in a most captivating environment is, for me, passable. Why? Because I like it.
I photograph things which I want to look at a little longer.~Gunnie Moberg
Boats in themselves are uninteresting subjects. You may frown in confusion what with a whole series of boat images filling my posts for the whole week. Boats per se are boring. You may notice that with the boat pictures I have posted so far they are always framed with some other elements – people, sunrise, beach, ports, sky, clouds, splash of water, etc. Supporting elements, background and foreground placements and overall composition will provide appeal to an image. Though boats take center stage in this week’s picture series, they may not always be the point of interest. They may take on secondary, supporting roles. The picture above may have the boat as focal point, right smack in the middle of a 16:9 aspect ratio, but what really drives the image are those large brooding clouds that may signal an upcoming thunderstorm. That is a dramatic image that foretells a story – a vessel at sea being chased by a thunderstorm. The photo below may not be high-impact, and this time the fisherman is the main cast. But it also tells a tale – the sun is high and the fisherman decides to “park” his boat in an island and take a rest under the cool shade of coconut trees. Framing elements in a photo may seem to add clutter and distraction from the main subject. But a careful arrangement of these elements simply leads the eye to the point of interest and strengthens the message or story. It’s a technique tested and used time and again. Let me close this piece with something from Annie Leibovitz:
One doesn’t stop seeing. One doesn’t stop framing. It doesn’t turn off and turn on. It’s on all the time.
There is something about capturing water movement using long exposure. Ten, 15, 20 or 30-second exposure times will result in smooth, silky effects to the motion of water. We are always awed and amazed at such creative power of the camera. As everyone keen on photography knows, one needs a tripod and a steady base to achieve such effect. These three pictures, taken while I was on a rocking unsteady boat, were taken using the other creative extreme feature of the camera – fast shutter speeds enough to freeze movement. You can see water particles suspended in mid-air, a split second splash of time stopped from its proverbial march to eternity. Nothing mind-blowing really. Any camera or beginner can do this. But what strikes us, with the aid of technology, is the ability to capture a slice of time, to hold on to an extreme instance, a tick of infinity right there with the press of our fingertip. Photography endows us with this gift and capacity. The father of photojournalism Henri Cartier-Bresson expresses it this way:
“Photography is, for me, a spontaneous impulse coming from an ever attentive eye which captures the moment and its eternity.”
Piers and ports are not the most picturesque of subjects and locations. These places are usually a tangle of cargo, industrial materials and whatever can be transported on large ships. Then there are people. Unlike airports which are built as symbols of architectural beauty, ports are just that – transport hubs that play important roles in a country’s trade and commerce. We photographers, however, don’t always go for the picturesque, we go for the “photographable” whether it is a thing of beauty or not. There will always be a photo-reporter in us, capturing the essence and mood of a place. We like to document reality – the “how it is” as oppose to “how it should be” – simply because there are times we do not have a choice on our subject and situation. In other words, what we see is what we get. A wise photographer will visualize and compose his shot then seize the scene, be it a visually inspiring airport or a description-defying port.
As in our tips last week on photographing stained glass windows, we tackled on zooming out or backing farther away in order to capture the whole piece. On the other hand, we are advised to zoom in on parts and areas to emphasize details. In my experiences in photographing boats I also follow that process – get it wide to capture the subject whole then zoom in on areas to get some particulars. That way I get as much perspectives and variety in my shots. Details can be a confusing mishmash of objects, colors, lines, shapes and forms such as the picture of a tanker ship below, or it can be a clean image showing the finer points of a fisherman’s gear like the picture above. Why are details important? As in anything else, details comprise the big picture. Let me share a quote from sociologist Howard S. Becker:
“Every part of the photographic image carries some information that contributes to its total statement; the viewer’s responsibility is to see, in the most literal way, everything that is there and respond to it. To put it another way, the statement the image makes – not just what it show you, but the mood, moral evaluation and casual connections it suggest – is built up from those details.”
However much a man might love beautiful scenery, his love for it would be greatly enhanced if he looked at it with the eye of an artist, and knew why it was beautiful. A new world is open to him who has learnt to distinguish and feel the effect of the beautiful and subtle harmonies that nature presents in all her varied aspects. Men usually see little of what is before their eyes unless they are trained to use them in a special manner.~Henry Peach Robinson
Boat photography is a bit trickier than shooting on land, but becomes more natural with practice…Framing and tracking a subject through the lens while on a boat takes some practice, as even the slightest waves can make the job very difficult, especially at higher magnifications, so start on calm water with shorter lenses, allowing a bit extra room around your subject, and progress to rougher water and longer lenses, with more tightly framed compositions. In general, you will always want to photograph from smaller boats when there is little wind, as the wind will not only kick up spray and make the water choppy, but it will move your boat around, making it difficult to photograph.
On larger boats, give yourself some time to feel how the boat moves, and see where spray is coming from, before beginning to photograph. On some big boats, you can lose your balance pretty easily while others are very smooth, so you want to know that before you take out your gear. Once you get a feel for the boat, shoot away, keeping an eye out for spray and changing weather conditions.
Photographing from a boat can add a new dimension to your photography and open up the possibility of photographing new subjects or older subjects in a new way. So the next time you venture out on a boat, consider bringing your camera gear along and seeing what you can capture.
~Kari Post from her article Have Boat, Will Photograph
It will be a week-long images of boats – large and small, fast and slow, empty or with people. The Philippines is an archipelago with 7,100 islands and a combined coastline of 23,000 kilometers. Though airplanes provide fast, convenient means of transport to major cities, it is the boat, from large inter-island ferries that carry a couple of thousand passengers to small dozen seaters, that are preferred by most of the budget-conscious traveling population. Smaller ones are workhorses of the country’s fishermen. And of course, island-hopping with these boats provides a different kind of adventure. All aboard! Have a great week ahead my friends!
I believe in the resonance and staying power of quiet photographs.~William Albert Allard
Ok, but there’s more to picking the right spot than just the location. As important as location is, your sunset will almost always be lacking the one essential ingredient that will make it special – a dominant point of interest. And just what might that be? It’s that extra element that gives your sunset an anchor, a sense of scale, a point which will draw the viewer inevitably into the picture.
A photograph of a sunset by itself just doesn’t work. After all, one setting sun is much like any other. Even if you manage to capture the gorgeous color, without a dominant point of interest the image will still end up looking rather boring. Now, having said that I should tell you that, without some forward planning, a dominant point of interest is not an easy thing to include. It might be the silhouette of a sailboat on a glittering, backlit ocean, a barn, a horse, a cow, a tractor, or even a lone tree in the foreground. It could be the silhouette of two lovers walking hand-in-hand down a country lane, a little girl with a small dog on a leash – I’ve used both of those – and I’m sure you can come up with many more ideas of your own.
~Blair Howard fron his article How To Photograph Sunsets
It’s not when you press the shutter, but why you press the shutter.~Mary Ellen Mark
When I use the camera, I often feel like I know part of the people or places I come in contact with.~Christophe Agou
To shoot poignant pictures we only need follow the path of our enthusiasm. I believe that this feeling is the universe’s way of telling us that we are doing the right thing. The viewing public will always disagree over the intrinsic merits of a particular photograph, but no one can deny the enthusiasm that originally inspired us to capture and offer that image to others.~Timothy Allen
Being a photographer is making people look at what I want them to look at.~Ruth Orkin
Mood in photographic terms is simply atmosphere, attitude and character. Expressions in portraits and images of people evoke emotional moods. The general feel and look of a place create a climate and a general mood of the environment. Mood in an image is highlighted by the thoughtful use of colors.
An overwhelming use of blue (as in the sky and sea in the picture above) connotes calm and peace and freshness. Pair that with a complementary color of yellow as in the boat, and you have contrast both in color and subject. Colors have meanings and they excite, attract and influence. Which is why there is a whole science on color management, theory and concept because the proper utilization of color creates a positive emotional response. Let’s refresh ourselves on colors and the meaning they carry:
Green – balance, growth, harmony, renewal, restoration, abundance, nature
Blue – peace, calm, tranquility, devotion, truth, direction, order
Red – action, energy, speed, confidence, passion, courage
Yellow – optimism, cheerfulness, enthusiasm, fun, originality, academic, analytical
Orange – optimism, enthusiasm, cheerfulness, flamboyance, creative flair
Indigo – sincerity, integrity, idealism, faithful, ideal, responsible
Purple – inventive, intuitive, selfless, unusual, creative, humanitarian, mysterious
Brown – wholesome, down-to-earth, friendly, reliable, warm, earthly, sensual
Pink – romantic, sweet, feminine, nurturing, compassionate, understanding
Gray – elegant, dignified, neutral, impartial, professional, mature, intelligent
Silver – soothing, dignity, glamour, self control, sleek, hi-tech, scientific
Gold – abundance, wealth, wisdom, charisma, optimism, positive, masculine
White – innocence, purity, cleanliness, equality, self-sufficient, pristine, open
Black – protection, comfort, strong, contained, formal, sophisticated, seductive
These are but some of the psychology and positive traits of colors. What does this mean in our photography? Be attentive, observant and thoughtful in your use of colors in your images. They will induce a response and reaction, mostly in a positive sense. But such reaction will be deeper and richer if colors are presented beautifully and are part of a well composed image.
A picture is a story conveyed in a single shot. That solo frame of an image is a narrative summarized through meticulous capture, execution and presentation. On seeing an image, composing and arranging the elements and subject, we hope for a reaction. And one of the first things that trigger reaction is colors – how it is effectively presented and utilized. Colors create mood and character, and highlight subjects. Strip away colors and what do you have to evoke reaction from your viewers? How will you incorporate mood and character in an image whose primary element of color is missing? How will you tell your story, your message in black and white?
The art of story telling in a single image is hard enough, more so in the absence of color. Liken this to peeling away the layer of color and exposing the innards which are the structure and form. We literally return to the basics, such as:
1. Find the lines and there are many of them: the straight line, horizontal and vertical, the diagonal line., the broken line, the jagged line, the leading lines, and the curves.
2. Find patterns, textures and shapes. Color can be disorienting and confusing. A pattern of contrasting and playful colors is fun. Take away color and you have repetitions of light, shades and shadows. You can highlight outlines and shapes with light and darkness. You can use side lighting on a surface, whether rough or fine, for textures to come out.
3. Let your black be black and let your white be white. But if your read the previous post “The math in monochrome,” we learned that 000 is pure black and 255 is pure white, which means that there are 254 shades of grey in between. Effectively apply greys in your image through the tonal adjustment feature in your editing software. Tones define details, add depth and establish mood.
4. Go for low key or high key lighting. An image enveloped in soft white light, or plunged into subtle darkness creates character. This creative light technique will always add drama and impact on an image.
My primer and principle in photography is right there at the top of the sidebar. You have probably come across it several times. It is that every image you take is a story. You should be true to your art and tell your story well whether in color or, more importantly so because of its characteristic, in black and white.
A photographer is a seeker of silence, both in the literal and symbolical sense. He will photograph festivals, concerts, sports action, rallies, scenes of war and destruction, but he will find order in chaos. He will take pictures of solitary ponds, placid lakes, still mountains, pastoral fields and primeval forests, yet his perception will be so concentrated that he will sense and hear nothing but the snap of the shutter button. He will be at a standstill, focused and unruffled, as he points his camera to capture a moment.
The photographer’s energy, heart and soul are all fixed and engaged into that second, that fraction of time, when he has decided to press the shutter. He is the epitome of peace and solitude, the disciple of stillness and quiet. He doesn’t want to be bothered and divided in his attention. Far from being solitary creatures, photographers like all artists need some quiet time especially at that crucial instance of capture. He is all wrapped up and even holds his breath a few seconds both to gather composure and to steady his shot, not wanting to be disturbed by the slightest body movement of breathing. That is so much like suspending his life for a while just to get that shot! It is in the sanctity of silence the photographer excels.