The photographer cannot be a passive spectator; he can be really lucid only if he is caught up in the event.~Henri Cartier-Bresson
The picture below was taken at Baluarte, a seaside park in the tourist island province of Bohol in central Philippines. When I reviewed the picture in my computer, it was far from what I saw on that day. My picture was bland and boring. It had to undergo post-processing to highlight the colors and details to more or less approximate the actual scene. How do we go about capturing the realism of a scene when we first saw it?
Kimball Larsen shares some pointers in his article 10 Photography Tips To Better Capture What You See. They are the following:
1. Decide on a clear center of attention
2. Remember that your eye has a better dynamic range than your camera
3. Aperture control for DOF
4. Careful composition to either expand upon or contract the feel of the photo
5. Be ready – moments come and go quickly
6. Understand the exposure triangle
7. P is not for “Professional”
8. Pay attention to your light sources
9. Always check your camera settings
Again I suggest you go over the article and read Larsen’s descriptions on each tip. Giving thoughtful consideration to the above items will greatly improve our picture-taking. It helps elevate us to the level of a thinking photographer, deliberate and confident that our every shot will result in a faithful capture of what we saw. Happy shooting this weekend!
It’s another month, and another issue of Junsjazz Digital Magazine has been published. Issue #7 presents a sampling of minimalist photographs from my image collection. It’s all about simplicity and order, and organized emptiness, if you can call it that. As tradition for the past four issues now, half of the magazine (which has grown to 34 pages from an original of eight) is devoted to guest photo bloggers and their works. I’d like to thank the following who have responded to my invitation:
Sally W. Donatello
Stephen G. Hipperson
Scott D. Hill
I extend my gratitude to them for generously sharing their impressive images through this digital magazine medium. Also starting with this issue is a new feature – a collaborative piece between a photographer and a poet – literally a fusion of imagery from the visual and the written word. Much thanks to wordsmith Kelly Hartland for joining forces with me. Again put on your headphones for a multimedia experience. You can check out all the Issues here. Enjoy!
Today’s photographers think differently. Many can’t see real light anymore. They think only in terms of strobe – sure, it all looks beautiful but it’s not really seeing. If you have the eyes to see it, the nuances of light are already there on the subject’s face. If your thinking is confined to strobe light sources, your palette becomes very mean – which is the reason I photograph only in available light.~Alfred Eisenstaedt
There are some photographers that don’t go out at night. For many, the perception is that with the lack of ambient light, all your shot will turn out blurry, noisy or dark. In reality, within most city centers there is a wealth of photographic opportunities just waiting to be discovered, all using the available light.~Simon Bray
The photographer selects rather than conceives a picture by choosing what will be inside and outside the four edges of the frame in his camera’s viewfinder. Those edges take things out of context and define the content of the subject.~John Szarkowski
Composition is about much more than a set of rules. Composition is about how each photographer uses light, color and contrast. It is about how each photographer sees the world and how each photographer wants to represent this world to his or her audience. In short, composition–when approached from an individual perspective– is about your way of seeing the world. It is about your way of sharing what you see with your audience, with those that will look at, study and admire (or criticize) your work.~Alain Briot
Capturing character is all about portraying subjects as they are – a genuine representation of the person or people. Far removed from the super smooth, heavily processed, angelic faces we see on magazine covers, character portraiture presents subjects in real-life appearance with all their attributes, expressions, nuances and details. Such as the picture below which is a study of characters in contrast: the lines, creases and wrinkles of old age, and the soft, smooth features of youth.
In his article Character Portrait Photography Tips And Techniques, long-time photography instructor Wayne Turner offers some pointers:
1. Treat the subject with dignity
2. Capture the face
4. Add some environment
5. Relax your subject
6. Focus on the hands
7. Black and white
8. Available light
Go over the article of Turner and read his brief explanation on each of the tips. It will just take you a couple of minutes. And may I add, when capturing the face make sure as much as possible to have the eyes clear and in focus. Eyes are expressive and truly are the windows of the soul. You may have noticed in reportorial images of persons whose identity are hidden, that their eyes are blocked off, covered or superimposed with a black rectangle. Eyes reveal much, both the identity and the character. The bottom line, people photography is about capturing personality, emotion and mood. The subject may not be all sunny and smiles, and may not be the most beautiful and photogenic face in the world, but it is incumbent upon the photographer to capture subjects in the most actual, factual and categorical manner. Turner aptly puts it this way: “Character photography is all about capturing the essence of your subject and conveying who they are and what they do.”
Simplicity is all about presenting simple images – uncluttered, plain and downright, well, basic – lines, colors, shapes. Because as we’ve learned and presented in over 300 posts in this blog, photography is the art of simplification, elimination, cropping and focusing on the subject. It is all about presenting the point of interest in the most lucid and spot-on manner. Granted that the photographer sometimes use artistic license in his work, it shouldn’t however deprive him of presenting his pictures in the most understandable way – clear, precise and clarified. It should never be the photographer’s intention to present to viewers something they could hardly grasp or comprehend. Unless its abstract or a mish-mash of incomprehensible obscurity. Then maybe its art, not photography. In our photographic milieu we try to present things as clearly and plainly as possible even with some tinge of artistic license. We are allowed that. Anyway its always the photographer’s vision. One photographic technique we have learned is that we may not necessarily present our subject as a whole. We can use creative and selective focus, or crop out edges or recompose, always keeping in mind the art of simplicity and the technique of giving emphasis on our subject.
The height advantage doesn’t only apply in basketball, it is also much sought after in photography. We call it the vantage point. It is the perspective of altitude giving you a sweeping, broad field of vision. Street level shots are, well, ordinary because that’s the person’s normal perspective. That is why you see photographers hold their cameras above their head to get an alternative shot. The difference may just be a matter of inches but that will drastically change the point of view, and the framing of the subject. We have taken shots of sunrises and sunsets as part of a landscape, and usually without vantage point since the sun is over the horizon almost at street level. Unless you’re watching the sunset from atop of a building or mountain then that’s quite a another view. Now imagine a sunrise over the clouds at 30,000 feet. No don’t imagine it, its in the photo I took from an airplane’s window on an early morning flight to the province. The scene is almost surreal and magical with the textured, cotton-like bed of clouds in the foreground and the sun peering through in the background complete with the morning atmospheric haze. We don’t often take pictures like this which makes it special. Vantage point from mere inches to thousands of feet will change the view of an image. Let’s put it this way – be a soaring eagle and look out into the world around you. Because the outlook is different from a regular person’s eye-level view, an image taken from an elevated position will come out fresh, unique and interesting. So whenever possible, take advantage of height or altitude. In other words, just get high for that shot. Now going low or under is another viewpoint. And that’s for another post.
Article Excerpt: “Like planning an expedition or using a camera, patience can be learned. In the past decade there has been something of a revolution around what it means to acquire skill. Neuroscientists figured out that when we repeat an action, the neurons involved become wrapped with myelin, a neural insulator. The result is that those neurons become neural superhighways. Signals on well wrapped neurons travel up to 400 times faster and stronger than unwrapped neurons. Who doesn’t want to be 400 times better? And it’s not just physical activity that gets better with practice. Thinking skills are also myelin based. Skill and habit are made of myelin. This is handy because it means that practicing patience yields a habit of patience.”~Bors Vesterby from his article Dynamic Patience: The Essential Photographic Skill
That’s right. We pick up colors in various varieties and shades. What may be red to me can be amaranth, scarlet, crimson, ruby, flame, burgundy, cardinal, rose, terra cota and rust to another. And those are just a sampling of red varieties. That’s just one color. There are many other shades in other colors. How we see and receive color is unique to each individual. And how we interpret such color is different from person to person. Generally, the color red is active and dynamic, but others may perceive it as romantic, sensual and even playful. Others will see it as the personification of evil, blood, lust, greed, domination, among others. What am I getting at? In color photography, color defines an image. How we perceive colors in an image is how we understand the message of that image, or what it is trying to convey. Red as rust or age may describe a subject that has gone through the passage of time, such as the picture of the old house above. In his article Color Perception And How It Might Apply To Photography, Spencer Seastrom presents two unique ways of how we see the world. First is that the world is unique from the perception of others and, second, we can’t explain our own perception to others. He relates this to color and as I’ve made examples earlier on, we see colors differently. This is compounded by the fact that colors evoke emotions, and when emotions are involved we feel it in extreme sensations. Saying “I love you” is best with red roses, passionate and heartfelt, but it can also be with white roses, pure and meaningful. In other words, color photography is not mainly how the photographer sees it. It is as much as how others will see it, feel it and be moved by it. Parallel to satisfying the photographer with his capture is ensuring the contentment of the viewer.
A picture will always be a story, in a single shot. Without words, without explanations, without definitions, without captions, it is the aim of the photographer to tell the realism of the moment as he saw it, as he interpreted the scene from the time of capture. Unlike film or slideshows and moving pictures which, more or less, convey the gist of the story or a narrative of the story itself in elongated form, a single image tries to encapsulate it all, and attempts to give an account, a chronicle of the instance.
What does it mean for us photographers? It means we have to be definitive and conscious of the images we take. It may not be earth-shattering or headline-grabbing pictures, unless you’re a photojournalist. Images of everyday life, of nature and landscapes, or of common things must represent a visual narration, a chronicle, a record of the moment, a second of time as the photographer captured and envisioned it. It is the heart of the image, the story conveyed in that one shot. One becomes a photographer in the truest sense of the word when he can capture images that are narrations, commentaries and descriptions of themselves. The picture itself tells the story.
Black and white is great for portraits, still life, minimalism, cityscapes, architecture and street photography. However, for landscapes there is a bit of a hesitation. Not every landscape scenery is meant for black and white. It’s a judgment call. We like the sky blue, the sea azure, the setting or rising sun yellow or orange, trees and vegetation verdant, and the earth brown. Nature and landscapes are best in full, living color, as they were meant to be. We can not blame the great Ansel Adams as he only had the tools of black and white during those days when he immortalized the sceneries of Yosemite National Park in his images. These would become the most well-known landscapes in black and white. But later on he also went into color to capture the grandeur of his favorite landscapes, as well as portraits and architecture. Your awareness and appreciation will come into fore when selecting landscapes for black and white.
A plain blue, cloudless sky is best left at that. But a sky with brooding, gloomy, menacing clouds in discordant formation will alert the senses of the keen photographer. He will frame the scenery from edge to edge, top to bottom. He will scan and sweep the vista. He will find his foreground, middle ground and background. He will set his horizon line either in the upper or lower portion of the frame. He will process all these in mere seconds. Then he will capture the scene in color. Why? That is the digital way of capture and control, so that later on in the digital darkroom when converting into black and white, the photographer has options to revert to color, just in case. Now he will apply his editing prowess. If captured in RAW, he can tone-map the image adjusting the levels of brightness, contrast, sharpness and tonal quality. These are the finishing touches. Landscapes as with other subjects will work well when you see patterns, textures, lines, shapes and light. It is a matter of perception brought about by a trained eye, and knowledge honed by experience, to know when a landscape will work best with only the basic ingredients of light, shades and shadows.
I adore this article Finding Inspiration by master photographer Alain Briot. In it he defines and differentiates the relation between four of the most important aspects of photography – inspiration, creativity, vision and personal style. Here’s his take on these four:
A. One can be inspired without being creative.
B. One can be extremely creative without being particularly inspired.
C. One can be inspired and creative without fulfilling a personal vision.
D. Finally, one can have a personal vision without having yet developed a personal style.
Each of the aforementioned has its own explanation and I was impressed how Briot connected and correlated them. I will not expound further but will strongly suggest that you again set aside some five minutes or so of your time to go over this very compelling and informative article. In the latter part of his piece, Briot adds:
“Finding inspiration is an engaging subject. As we just saw there are many ways to find inspiration. Yet, there is one way that I have not discussed yet, and that is where your own internal inspiration, your “secret flame” so to speak, resides…This flame, this spark of energy, this initial internal combustion burst, resides within you. It has been there for a long time, most likely since the day you were born, and it is for you to discover if you do not know about it yet.”
For me, photography has always been a process of discovery, both of the world and of myself. When I look back at the pictures I took early on, they were amateurish, unpolished – works of an inexperienced snap shooter. I don’t know why I kept these crude pictures in my hard disk. I should have deleted them long ago. But I did not. Probably to serve a purpose such as a reminder that I should never take pictures like those again. So I read up on techniques, on styles, on the wisdom of the masters. I looked at lots of fine photos from books and on the internet. I experimented with my shots, practiced and trained my eye to “see” despite being nearsighted (I wear glasses). I learned to find photographic inspiration even in the most menial subjects. And learned to see the light such as in the picture above. Briot is right, it is within you. You have to discover that spark, and express it in your images.
It is required and should be the aim of the artist-photographer to produce in the likeness the best possible character and finest expression of which that particular face or figure could ever have been capable. But in the result there is to be no departure from truth in the delineation and representation of beauty, and expression, and character.~Albert Sands Southworth
Article Excerpt: “When it comes to black-and-white imagery, being able to ‘see’ how your final shot will look is a key skill. It’s important to understand how the colour image you see through your camera’s viewfinder will translate into a monochrome image. To get the best results, you have to look beyond the colours, and instead try to visualise how a shot’s shapes, textures and tones will be recorded…The success of your black-and-white shots relies on several different factors, but the main thing to look out for is a main subject that will appear in a significantly different shade of grey to the background. Then look out for subtleties of tone and texture that will add depth to your images.”~From the article Black and White Photography: What Every Photographer Should Know
We, photographers of all levels, like to say we can shoot anything. And that’s what millions of other casual shooters armed with cameras on their smartphones do not say, that is what they do. So what makes us any different from them who fill Facebook, Twitter and a host of other photo sharing and social media sites with billions of photos? They take snapshots, we take photographs. There is not much thought when you take snaps – it’s the random shoot anything-anywhere-anyhow-anyway. Easy. But when you take photographs you consider the lighting, the shape, the form, the texture, the colors, the lines, the subject in relation to its background or other elements, or the lack of. You frame and compose your shot. You scan the surrounding, notice and observe. You think. And you got questions in your mind. Is this pleasing? What if I do it this way? Is this interesting? How can I make the subject stand out? Yes, all those with cameras – from smartphones to point and shoots to dslr – can shoot anything, but not anyone can produce a good photograph. Why is this so? The avid, passionate photographer has something which the casual shooter doesn’t have – knowledge. Whether hobbyist, enthusiast or even professional, they all strive to learn to improve and better their craft. They read books, articles, tips and techniques, and apply these through experimentation and practice. And they shoot and shoot. Never fearing what could be wrong, yet always hoping that the image they took was the clear result of instinct and learning developed through patience and persistence. Yes, anyone with a camera can shoot anything, but only a true photographer can shoot something of value and come out with a prize – the appreciation of his audience.
Article Excerpt: “Very few people know that macro photography is a primer for taking perfect portraits…Once you master this skill, you’ll see it pop up in your portrait photography too. You’ll start paying attention to the jewelry people are wearing, their eyebrows, the shininess of their lipstick, and the reflections on their sunglasses. It all adds up, and some of it detracts. Great portrait photographers know how to tone down the distractions while emphasizing the interesting details…If you think about it, that’s the only difference between a highly experienced photographer and someone just starting out. Photographers who have been there know which details matter the most. They can see a photo happening before they’ve even pressed down the shutter. Strengthening your macro photography skills will only get you closer to this goal.”~David Peterson from his article 3 Things Macro Photography Can Teach You About Taking Portraits
With nearly two thousand photos of various fiesta and festival events in my collection, it is but natural that I release a fiesta-themed issue of Junsjazz Digital Magazine. And that one, Issue #6, will come out this weekend. It contains select images from Philippine Festivals I had the opportunity to experience and document. This Issue promises to be very colorful, just like the tribal performer in the photo. For those new to this blog, I come out with an interactive online photography magazine and have published five issues so far. The Fiesta Issue is the sixth. And again I feature guest photo bloggers and their works. There are seven of them, each with her own two-page magazine spread. Yes, I said “her.” They are all women photographers. To access these online publications just click on the digital magazine picture at the top of the sidebar.
Article Excerpt: “In her book On Photography, Susan Sontag describes photography as a tool of power. In a predatory way, photographers scan their territory, stop, shoot, move on, and later display their collection of trophies for others to see. They appropriate, tame and master the situation by visually capturing and preserving it. They isolate a moment of time out of its connectedness to other moments, separate it from its environment and a larger reality, freeze it in taxidermy fashion, impose their own interpretation and viewpoint on it. By fixating that moment, they keep things the way they are and attempt to prevent the inevitability of change. They offer proof that they were there, that this thing happened, that this thing existed. At the very least, by recording and interpreting an event, they put themselves in a relationship to the world that feels like knowledge, and, therefore, power.”~John Suler on The Good Capture from his articles Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche
“The sky is the daily bread of the eyes” says Ralph Waldo Emerson. It’s the first thing we see outside when we look up – vast, encompassing, restless and inconstant – features which make it a magnet for photographers. If you’re a nature, outdoor or landscape shooter, the sky is a great backdrop to your foregrounds or subjects. Sometimes they become subjects themselves being attractive, constantly evolving and colorful. More often than not, we make them the canvas or background in our frame as we find interesting focal points. When I’m out on location, first thing I do is look up and see where the sun is and how its light falls on the surrounding areas. Our instinct of observation kicks in, we eye how the clouds form and, depending on time of day, see how light affects things. You know you get dramatic colors during sunset and sunrise, and those are the golden hours preferred by photographers. But mid-day sky will not escape our notice especially if it has interesting cloud formation. As always we look for the appealing and pleasing, and the sky almost always never fails us in this respect, in whatever weather. Even thunderstorms in the horizon will give us the most incredible view. Just don’t get caught beneath it or all you’ll be taking pictures of are droplets on your window pane as you sip coffee and wait for the rain to subside. Here are simple tips from PhotographyMad.com on Photographing Dramatic Skies. The article suggests the time to best capture the sky, to add the clouds in the image, to include objects or foregrounds, using wide-angle for our shots, and setting the white balance in the camera. You will never see the same sky twice, it is always changing and shifting. Don’t pass up on the most astounding sky scenery, capture it. Passionate photographers may not lug around their bulky DSLRs all the time, but they will not go out without their backup – the handy, carry-anywhere point and shoot cam. Such as the time when I chanced upon an amazing sunset along a coastal road. I parked the car off the road, pulled out the P&S from my belt pouch and crouched low to capture a slender, foot-high plant. The above picture was the result.
I’m making a change and a choice. Not for anything else but I want to have an orderly routine in my postings, and put prominence in my black and white photography. I’m making my weekends – Saturdays and Sundays – my official days for posting black and white images, as well as articles, tips and techniques regarding the medium. Whole week-long I swamp all of you with the intensity and exuberance of color in this photo blog and at my art blog. So for a change, as we wind down and close the week, we mellow down and take a breather with the calming effect of black and white. I invite color photo bloggers to do the same. It will be a community of monograph weekenders. Have a Blessed Sunday!
As far as I’m concerned, there actually is no issue. I have said before that I’m a colorist, whether in my artworks or in my photography. I love colors that pop out, vivid and almost alive. Color photography is the realism we capture in the natural world – we see in color and our environment is in color. I read a quote somewhere which said that if colored film was the first to be invented, people won’t be taking pictures in black and white. But then it was the opposite that happened, hence we go back to capturing with the original medium of photography. I can go on expound the merits of color and black and white photography but that would take a whole page, and there are lots of online information on these subjects anyway. Let me just point out that using either medium is a personal choice. I see many photo bloggers who are quite at home doing exclusively black and white images. While I see others who are colorists like me yet from time to time post black and white photos. With today’s digital technology, it is very easy to switch from one medium to another, hence we can traverse both worlds. We can find enjoyment in the vibrancy and energy of colors, or we can take solace in the softness and simplicity of light, darkness and grays. All in the convenience of a mode setting in the digital camera, or a conversion feature in most image editing programs. The deeper issue I think is how well we convey the message or story of each image we capture whether it is in color or black and white. It all boils down again to composition or how we effectively arrange within the frame all those visual elements to make the resulting picture interesting, compelling and convincing. Regardless if it is in color or black and white, this quote from Julian Barnes is something we should ask ourselves when taking pictures: “Does it interest the eye, excite the brain, move the mind to reflection, and involve the heart?” Have a relaxing weekend bloggers!