Composition and Composure

Does your photography move you emotionally?  Do other people comment on how it moves them?  Is there a “wow” factor?

NotebookExperienced photographers who share their knowledge with new photographers spend a lot of time talking about composition and the “rules”.  Leading lines, rule of thirds, negative space, etc. help to teach the eye what to look for when evaluating a scene.  But they don’t spend a lot of time talking about why these rules matter at all.

I can only find one answer:  it’s an effort to disrupt the composure of anyone who views the image.  To get a reaction.  Most often positively, sometimes with delight, and sometimes deliberately negatively.  The “rules” provide a roadmap for the senses, and by extension, for the emotions.  To be truly successful as a photographer, you have to tap into that emotion – yours and your viewers.

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Photographing the Work of Others

It seems there is a long-standing debate around photographing other people’s work.  It’s a simple debate:  what exactly is the photographer creating if the photograph includes an object or structure that has been created by someone else?

This debate arises mostly in relation to works that exist in public spaces.  The originating works may already be labelled “works of art” or may be labelled “architecture”, “edifice”, “structures”, “building”, “hardscape”, “figure”, “carving”, “casting” or any of many names that don’t necessarily assign an aesthetic value.

And yet all of it was imagined by someone, designed by someone, built by someone and placed on display.  Even if the work has another function, such as a building, there was a creative effort expended to provide that space.  If a photographer takes an image of it, presents it as their own creation and maybe makes a profit from it, is that right?  Disclaimer:  this is not a legal review. Continue reading

Some Inspiration…

One of the joys of photography is simply the chance to talk to other photographers.  So many topics to indulge, so many experiences to compare.  And of course, best of all, the chance to admire good work.

I had the pleasure yesterday of attending a talk at our local camera club by Kas Stone, a Canadian photographer based in Nova Scotia.  In addition to her work as a landscape and nature photographer, she regularly teaches, holds workshops and speaks to groups like ours about the art of photography.  Continue reading

Being in Control

It’s one of the ironies of photography that we spend ever increasing amounts of money to purchase better and better cameras and lenses, acquiring more and more automatic features to aid us in getting the best images possible.

And then what do we do?  We turn everything off and shoot completely manually, because “that’s what pros do”.  Think about that for a minute.  Does that make sense to you?  Give your head a shake.

I recently had a moment shooting an event where I had to do just that.  Then I did a little experiment to find out just what I was missing by doing all the work myself.  Read on for the results.

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Getting Good Bokeh

Another short presentation to my local photography club.  Last time I spoke, it was about preventing blurry photographs.  This time, it’s about deliberately blurring the background to make the subject stand out.  This is useful when the background is busy or unappealing or needs an artistic touch to be more interesting.  Have a look.

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Here are links to the resources referenced in the slides:

Bokeh Basics

Bokeh the Easy Way

Bokeh in Front of the Subject

Advanced Bokeh

Black and White or Colour?

The options for manipulating an image after capture are endless today.  Creative edits can include composites, the addition of graphic elements, and the use of finishing treatments such as texture overlays, painterly conversions, grunge and high dynamic range (HDR) effects.  These are just a few possibilities.


But as recently as 1935, the only manipulation available to a photographer was around how much highlight and shadow to reveal in the print and where (a.k.a. dodging and burning).  All film was black and white.  The most creative photographers played with different development processes and printing surfaces, but these were all still monochrome results.  Others tried coloured filters at image capture, or layered emulsions that could produce different colours, but this made the capture and processing much more complex and the results were often poor.

KodachromeIn 1935, Eastman Kodak Company introduced Kodachrome and changed the world forever.  Despite this, colour photography did not become widespread, at least not in the consumer market, until the 1960’s.  So colour image capture has really been in broad use for just 50 years.

Today, all digital cameras capture colour data by default.  Black and white conversion is available both in-camera and through post-processing.  The irony is that the same debates about colour vs. black and white that drove the creation of Kodachrome still exist today.  Here’s my take on the creative debate. Continue reading

Photography as Art

ScotiabankApril and May are the traditional kickoff months for photography festivals in this area.  Many photographers, themes and collections are on display.  So many, in fact, that viewing all of their work is impossible, and isolating favourities can be challenging.

In a recent excursion, I participated in a discussion of photography as art.  The premise was that in order to be noticed, you can’t just be a photographer – you need to be an artist.  You need to give your photographs a distinctive look, a distinctive emotional connection to the viewer.  This means going beyond just documenting a subject – it means creating a work of art.  And this isn’t new – all successful photographers have realized and operated on this basis since the days of pinhole cameras.

This leaves me wondering.  If photography must be art to be successful, is there a point where a photograph is no longer a photograph?  And where is that line?  The answer isn’t obvious.  Here’s why…

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