Believe me.

September 25, 2008

That I guess is what composition is all about. Your eye and mind know what you are seeing, a rise in the distance, a hollow nearby, a stark tree, a zigzag path. (A tall building 🙂
The difficulty comes in making the image show these things.
Because you know they are there, you see them more clearly than they really appear. But the image you make is only made of different coloured dots, spots, pixels, or brush strokes. It doesn’t come with an accompanying commentary from a brain calculating heights, angles, depths, distances and perspective and taking note of what’s beside above or below the boundaries of your image. Nor the sounds and smells and temperature of the moving air across it.
That is supplied by the person looking at the picture. And unless your composition somehow tells them otherwise, the first thing their brain will comment on is the flatness of the screen or surface of the image. The size of it. The colours of it. The colours of the surrounding wall or frame or monitor. The temperature in the room where it is being viewed or the difficulty of seeing certain details or the noise of the children, traffic, washing machine in their background.
What they know to be there is more important to their brain than what some one else is telling them is there. It’s a survival thing! You need to be able to tell truth from fiction!
So your viewer doesn’t see light, they see yellow or white. They don’t see distance, they see lines converging in a flat plane. They certainly don’t hear birds or feel the wind!

So your mission, should you choose to undertake it, is to tell a convincing lie because what you want is to persuade your viewer that they are seeing a hill or a valley or a piece of iron and that it is beautiful or significant or important to them. Perhaps momentarily more important than the realities of their life. You want them to suspend disbelief and be transported to a place where you, the photographer, were when you took the photograph. And then to see what it was that held you there.

I was brought up as a painter and sculptor and so I learnt the basic rules of composition as things you put into a piece right at the beginning. Things we know, as photographers, like diagonals, converging lines, horizons, contrasts and proportions. Frames, backgrounds. Things that compel the viewer to imagine something that isn’t there.
Though a painter has to create from scratch, in some ways the task is easier. You can build your picture from the ground up, on the rules that will make it a convincing lie. A photographer has to find them in the view and then make sure that the image sits above those ground rules easily and naturally. They may not be there in the real life view! But if the view has entranced the photographer, chances are they are there somewhere because happily, what we consider beautiful is also often constructed in a way that will follow those rules and will contain those underlying structures.
Photos may or may not illustrate. I just like them 🙂

Let there be Light

September 25, 2008

One of the things I notice a lot since I started taking photographs is how much the same view is changed by light. The angle, the intensity and the colour of the light will completely redesign a subject so that what looks fabulous at 3.00 on a winter’s afternoon may look banal on a summery morning. And also, the same journey can, on different days, be a completely different journey, in terms of what catches your eye as you travel.
Things appear as if for the first time because the light shines on them or on their surroundings. Things that you felt sure were completely beautiful on a previous journey can’t even be found. Maybe will never be seen again.*
Colours can obviously be dramatically enhanced or diminished as the light changes. The golden hour of the evening sun does magical things to colour as does the golden hour of first light in the morning. And the light from an approaching storm will throw a strange cold and beautiful colour over a landscape. Light seen through rain casts a silveryness upon everything and the moon is something else again 🙂
So the mood can change from peaceful to threatening to joyful with all stations in between.
But what is maybe not so obvious is that though the structure of the land or the tree or the building will not change, light will brighten different parts of it while other parts will hide in shadow so that the structure of an image taken of that same view will be completely different.

This is not only true when the angle of the light changes but also when it’s intensity or colour changes. This can happen infuriatingly while you are still in the act of lifting the camera to your eye! One instant, there is a high, brightly coloured hedge with a dark valley plunging down behind it and a great rampart of rock behind that and a vaulted sky above that. The next minute there is only a flat sea of green with a dull lump of grey above it, topped with a flat white sky. Never mind a wonderful composition, the whole shape of the thing you saw has been smeared out of existence.

I mostly shoot outdoors and I know very little about indoor lighting so I’ve never attempted to use anything except natural light or the built in flash on my camera but I have seen photographs which have clearly been taken with magic or marvellous lighting.

A definition of light is totally beyond me though the wikipedia entry makes interesting reading**. However, I know that it travels in straight lines and bounces off things to travel in straight lines in different directions and that obstacles also cause it to change direction. I understand that it is a form of energy.
Sometimes though, it appears to act more like a fluid medium, laid on surfaces and seeping through them. Sometimes even like a chisel, carving out new forms from whatever was there before. Sometimes it even appears to fill the air like a solid.
I’m a bit of a light worshipper. Don’t you have to be to take photographs?

*which is why I now take my camera everywhere, always.
**If only because of the impressive contribution made to the understanding of light by scientists and scholars of the Eastern world long before Western scientists got to grips with it.