In a previous post, I tackled the general concept of an abstract photograph. I think it can be refined down something of the following: an image which is balanced equally across the entire frame such at that no one area attracts your attention more than any other area; the eye wanders, takes in the details, and never really lingers. By this definition, there is no subject since no one area or element of the photograph stands out more than any other; however, you could probably also argue that the entire frame is really the subject. Semantics is a funny thing, though, and this isn’t quite the definition of the term: we must think in terms of essences and summaries instead. An ‘abstract’ of a paper or article is really the core idea distilled down to the simplest possible terms; the objective elevator pitch rather than the marketing tagline. Today’s article tackles the visual equivalent of that: how do we take an idea and translate that into something visual?
I’ve never really talked much about what is probably the most important process in photography other than conceptualisation and capture/execution of the image itself. Even though it isn’t directly part of the photographic process, curation has probably the greatest impact out of all of the possible things you can do to control the way your work is perceived. Coincidentally, we’ve been running for a little over three years now, and this is also post number 1,000 – excluding the reposts. At an average length of 1,500 words per post (and many well into 4,000-5,000 range, plus the mammoth Camerapedia), that means there’s around ~2,200,000 words of primary content on the site, not including the comments. Not bad considering an average paperback is in the 100,000 word range. I suppose it’s therefore also somewhat fitting (and perhaps a touch ironic) that I celebrate being prolific by discussing the opposite. It seems it’s simpler to do it than talk about it, but equally important to do so in order to understand why…
In part one we looked at why images of people fascinate us, and the nature of portraiture. However, this only covers half of the possibilities for ‘images of people’: instances where the subject is a conscious and cooperative part of the process. What about the other possibility: where the subject is not aware the photographer, or only aware of them in the most fleeting of moments before any conscious self-image or rapport can be built?
The images in this article are all candid: unposed, unplanned, and with subject unaware. Even if it appears they may be looking at the camera in certain situations, it is a result of conscious timing, observation of something behind me, and/or a particular moment rather than catching a long stare. None of them showed any acknowledgement of my presence before or after the shot was taken, which was actually quite surprising in some situations. They saw me, but my presence didn’t register.
Today’s article is the first of two parts focusing on portraiture and human subjects as the focus of an image. It is not something I’m normally associated with because I rarely choose to show my work here; it doesn’t mean I don’t engage in it for personal reasons (which are usually not shared, obviously) or professional ones (I do have clients whose mainstay subjects are primarily human). Whilst curating images for a recent assignment, I had a couple of little personal epiphanies which I’d like to share with you all.
Why do we photograph? For the vast majority of the population, it’s because we want to record or document something. However, if you’re reading this site, I suspect it’s either because you really, really enjoy it, or it’s your job, or perhaps both. And I suspect that even if you do do this for a living, you’d have to have fallen into the former category at some point in time in order to think that it might even have been a slightly worthwhile exercise to undertake the current masochism that is professional photography, over say, banking. I know I did. In fact, I enjoyed photography in the early days (looking back, probably around 2001-2002) to the point it was probably slightly unhealthy and obsessive. But it did provide a creative outlet and set the foundations for today. Bottom line: we shoot because we enjoy it.
This article will be a sort of evolution of the Compact Fast Normal Conundrum…
It is an indisputable fact that photographers are all obsessed with equipment to some degree. Though online forums are perhaps a poor barometer of public opinion because one only visits if you are looking for equipment reviews or spoiling for a fight with a troll, I’ve noticed the same thing here – after running this site for more than three years, the most popular posts are consistently the ones that are equipment reviews, to do with system choices, or hardware. Philosophy comes a very distant second – by a factor of three or more – and then only images, which are dead last. Surely I can’t be the only one thinking this ratio is a little odd, given that the whole purpose of the exercise is to produce images?
In the previous article, we distilled down the two components of an interesting image: subject and presentation. We looked at the theoretical implications of both; today we’re going to attempt to address practical application. It will be in a very limited subjective way, as there’s simply no way to do it at an absolute level; I suppose it will be as much a snapshot of my current state of interpretation of the purpose of photography as a medium as much as anything. I certainly would not have had this line of logic two years ago, nor will I probably agree with everything again in another two years. The more we see, the more we experiment, the more our own vision evolves together with the creative philosophy behind it.
A traveller’s view. We have the required visual cues to say ‘airport’ – the aircraft, boarding gates, apron, terminal, bits of ground hardware. But also the vertical bars that suggest perhaps we are being imprisoned or limited in some way, and the lack of clarity or definition from the plastic windows making it unclear if the view is a reflection or perhaps the illusory product of jetlag…
In previous articles, I’ve explored what makes a technically good image; what makes a visually balanced image; what makes an emotional image, and of course what makes an outstanding image. But at no point have I really addressed what makes an interesting one. I’m going to attempt to tackle that today; but bear in mind this is an extremely subjective topic, and opinions may diverge enormously.
You have been warned.
Sunrise over Lake Michigan
Continuing this little series on tonality, mood and monochrome, I’d like to explain a little about the idea of native tonal response: it’s something I’ve frequently referred to in reviews, but never fully explained. Unfortunately, there are a very large number of variables, so bear with me.
Today’s article is a repost of a classic from two years ago (has it really been that long?) I bring it up again on the back of an interesting offline discussion I’ve been having with one of my email school students. How many people think about the relationship between idea, subject, composition and the final presentation format before hitting the shutter? The missing link is usually the last one – and almost always results in a necessary compromise in composition. But, there are ways to fill the empty space, as you shall see…