Today felt like Groundhog Day, in the sense that the sun would periodically peek out from the clouds, see its own shadow, and then skitter off again, leaving the day nearly as overcast as most of the past week has been. However intermittent, I’ll take it over no sun at all. Here’s the result of squeezing yesterday and today’s assignments in between bouts of shadowboxing with old Sol.
I don’t like shooting in the rain (well, that’s not entirely true; I just don’t like my camera being exposed to the elements when it’s crappy out). But since that’s all we’ve had for the majority of this week, I found myself a good doorway and made the best of what I had. If you’ve got the right rain gear for your camera, shooting in the rain — especially at night — opens up some interesting possibilities.
With all that said, it’d be nice if the weather cooperates for Day 16, which will be side lighting.
I rather like shadows. They’re useful; after all, they emphasize texture, create a mood or sense of mystery… and it’s really hard to create silouhettes without them. Every once in a while, you can even get a shadow that’s more evocative than the thing that’s casting it. Don’t be afraid of contrasty, shadowy photos; embrace the dark side!
Postscript: Cheated slightly on this one; it was shot on the last sunny day we had here. While I got a couple of shots in earlier today, overcast lighting really isn’t the best thing if you’re chasing shadows.
This weekend’s subjects between them could easily inspire several blog posts (and some time soon, they will). I’ve put them — along with tomorrow’s subject, shadow, together because each relies on the other to a large degree. Used correctly, light can emphasize — or obliterate — nearly any aspect in a photo, whether it’s shape, texture, color, or quite a bit else. Texture, on the other hand, can be used to give your photos a sense of dimensionality, and can even be used as a subject unto itself if you’re in that sort of mood.
Today was a dull, overcast day — which is great for catching color, generally, but it was also raining, which tends to put a damper on photography when you’re used to shooting outdoors to change things up. Today’s photo is an object lesson in why you should always have your camera (since I snuck this photo under the noses of the people in the local supermarket).
It’s also about color.
Color has always been a factor in photography, even before color photography (it was common to hand-color prints in the days before color processes became common). And it’s no wonder. Not only do we see in color, but color also has different cultural, artistic, and even emotional associations that can add layers of resonance to a photo when it’s used properly.
If we want to strip photography down to its barest essentials, it’s all about two things: lines, shapes, and light. Think about it a second: everything else can either be stripped away (take out the color and you’ve still got a black-and-white) or related back to one of those things. Depending on your personal preference and style, there are different ways you might choose to deploy those things, or visually “accessorize” them, but those are the essentials in your toolkit.
So today, it’s all about shape.
Sometimes your shape is your subject. For instance, you may find yourself wanting to emphasize the shape of something if that’s the most striking thing about your subject. Luckily for you, there are several ways to do this:
Backlighting can help to wipe out some of the surface details of something by portraying it in silouhette
Backdrops can be useful for subjects that can be moved or posed
Black and white is a good remedy if the shape of something works but the color in the image draws more attention than the shape (as in the two photos of the meters below)
At other times, the shape of something might be incidental to a larger subject, but still serve a compositional purpose. It’s also useful to remember that shapes are themselves collections of lines; because of that, shapes are capable of serving the same compositional purpose that lines do in terms of drawing attention to or through a particular part of the photo. And don’t be afraid of asymmetry, since asymmetrical shapes, besides having a certain visual appeal, also do a better job of leading the eye through a photo.
It’s not just photographers who are concerned with this sort of thing. Picasso’s cubist work, and abstracts by the likes of Joan Miro and Piet Mondrian (artists’ names link to representative works) throw realistic depiction out the window and reduce the visual plane to a series of shapes, although in Picasso’s case, the shapes are still — albeit loosely — deployed in the service of something vaguely figurative. We’ll be delving into abstraction later on, but for now, pay attention to shape in the arts and crafts, as well as in the world beyond your door.
Having experimented with lines, let’s go a step further today and take up perspective. As it relates to photography, perspective is simply how an object appears to the naked eye (or your capture medium) based on spatial relationships. Perepctive can vary depending on several things, such as the lens used, our position relative to our subject, and subjects’ positions relative to one another.
The form of perspective that most of us are familiar with is linear perspective. This manifests in two ways: first, as objects become more distant they appear smaller because their visual angle decreases. Second, if you have strong lines or edges in your photos, they will appear to diminish toward what’s called a vanishing point. The further away you are from your subject, the more pronounced the perspective effect; this is also, in turn, influenced by the type of lens used. Take the photo of the row houses as an example; the part closer to the photographer appears much larger, and diminishes as the distance from the camera increases. If the houses were longer, there would be an even more pronounced vanishing point, ’til the last houses in the row would appear very small if they were visible at all. The building is the same height from end to end, but because of the perspective, its far side appears much shorter than the near side.
Compression depending on focal length: If your photo contains multiple elements, you can use perspective as an element of composition to change the apparent relationship among those elements. Let’s try that again in English. The images of the bicycles below show how the use of different focal lengths effect the apparent “distance” between the bikes. The shots were taken at 24mm, 50mm, and 85mm, with the framing of the shot more or less the same from one photo to the next. You’ll notice that the bicycles haven’t been moved; they’re in the same position. I wasn’t (I had to keep stepping back as I zoomed in to maintain the composition). You’ll notice that in each shot, everything appears a bit closer together even though it’s still occupying the same physical space.
Perspective comes into play in nearly every form of photography, including portraits, nature photography, and pretty much any other form you can think of. It’s a reason to choose your lenses carefully, but it’s also a good reason to decide whether you want to “zoom” with your feet or with the lens, since it’s not just the “size” of the subject that will change within the frame, but also its relation to the rest of what’s depcited.
I’m a day behind on writing, but still on time with the shooting… which, I suppose, is better than the other way ’round. Anyway, today — by which I mean yesterday — it’s all about lines.
Strong lines in a photo serve a few purposes, but one of the most important is to lead your eye through the photo, or to emphasize a certain portion of it. Paying attention to the kinds of lines you have in your photo, and where they lead the eye, leads to stronger compositions.
Too many lines (as in the shot of the power lines) just create confusion and disorientation. The sidewalk shot that’s featured here, while it’s visually “busy,” features the strong curve of the bricks against the straighter linear jumble of the concrete (and the color contrast also helps). So pay attention to how the lines “work,” or don’t, in your photos. We’ll get to the color, and quite a bit else, in the days ahead.
Stepping away from photography for a minute, let me give you an example. Think for a minute about church architecture. If you stop to think about it, regardless of what they might share in common in terms of iconography, church buildings all share one feature in common, whether the rest of the building looks like a saltbox or Saint Patrick’s Cathedral: for the most part — inside and out — they feature strong diagonals and other architectural features (like buttresses) that, in addition to any architectural functionality they have, serve to lead your eyes up.
We can do the same thing with our photos; lines are one way of delineating the geometry of a photo, but they also act like railroad tracks, or steeples: done right, they lead our eyes through the photo, adding emphasis to some parts and de-emphasizing others. Just the same as we try to avoid extraneous “stuff” in our photos (like telephone poles sticking out of people’s heads), extraneous lines — too many of ’em, or in the wrong places — can undermine an otherwise good photographic composition.
Probably not for the last time this year, I’ve fallen short on my own project, which was to shoot one photo per hour today. The point of this exercise — which I’ve actually done at other times, and will likely revisit at some point soon — is to get you in the habit of shooting. Nothing more, nothing less. On Day 8, we’ll start getting a bit more specific about elements of photography. Stay tuned!
Today’s assignment is to find something in transition, or that will soon be in transition, and to photograph it. You’ll come back to it later this year for an “after,” though you may also want to revisit it periodically at other times of year to chart its progress. I’ll confess that I’m using a photo from November for my Before in this instance; it’s from the boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach, NJ, and reflects what a part of it looked after Hurricane Sandy.