It’s elementary.

The difference  between a snapshot and a good picture? Often enough it is simplicity. Simplicity does not necessarily mean taking things out of the picture. But it means taking things out of the picture that do not belong there.

Take this iPad snap, just now, of my new kitty Clio:

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Not bad. But what if we took out that unnecessary space, and especially that little black thing on the right.

Then maybe add a frame. And now we get:

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Can you see how much better that is than the original? Everything you remove that is not essential to the story makes the picture better. And you can remove it by cropping, blurring, recomposing: any way you like.

On Tuan the Celtics you pretty said “perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”. Or “less is more”.

And “On Tuan the Celtics you pretty” is Antoine de Saint-Exupery, World War Two fighter pilot and author of “Le Petit Prince”, that book about the little prince who lives on a tiny planet. The fact that Siri butchers his name shows how uncultured she is.  Back to hand-typing.

 

St James Cathedral, Toronto

I did a “Composition In The Field” tutorial walk in Toronto today for Digital Photo Academy. We mainly stayed in, or in the direct vicinity, of St James’ Cathedral.

Because it was cold. But also because there’s plenty to see in a given environment, once you open your eyes. And once you see it, you can apply compositional rules that are just about standard (and that I teach at gathering like this) . And then you can break them when you have good reason to. In the end, you end up with some good pictures.

Like this:

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A church, by the way, also has interesting insights into a world that is no more.

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Try to put yourself in M. Keating’s position: one moment he has a pregnant wife; then suddenly he has only a son; then a week later he has nothing. From happy and “everything is going our way” to two funerals in two weeks, and then Christmas. What a world that was, in 1832.

Back to here and now. Composition rules and camera use: If you want to learn the same, please contact me.

Meanwhile: why are you reading this, instead of going out to take some pictures of whatever is outside or inside?

 

Photographer, or…?

…or illustrator?

I am a big fan of being a photographer–meaning you do the work in the camera. But sometimes even I do some post-production work. Like here in this edited flash picture:

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That makes an OK picture a good picture, mainly because it dramatically simplifies it. See an earlier post for the “recipe” for this Andy Warhol-like effect – but I suggest you make your own. Much more fun. Simple (I used Lightroom) and quick.

 

Intermezzo, and, join me Sunday?

A bit slow this week as I have been in bed with flu-like symptoms. Meanwhile, here’s some depth – remember, to make your images “real looking”, use a close by subject against a farther background (“close-far”):

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Now – flash. A long workshop, all hands-on, this Sunday. The last two sold out. But PLENTY of space for this one. Think about it: you’d find this VERY useful. Hands on, so you do your own pictures, build the sets, connect the Pocketwizards, etc – and it’s a LONG one.

Lovely Photo

I am prompted to write, today, about the Internet and how you must not always believe it.

You may have noticed the following phenomenon: someone posts something horrible on the Internet and their friends all say “lovely photo”, “great work”, and so on.

Praise, on the Internet, means nothing.

I just saw a photo:

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I have made names and the subjects (one of whom is a friend, and a lovely lady) unrecognizable, but there is still enough to see that, with respect, this is not in fact a “lovely” photo:

The light comes from straight above them, so their eyes are completely dark. This is something you cannot see. The composition is terrible. The heads should be higher. There is stuff in the picture that distracts, like the lights dimmer on the very left. The stuff behind the ladies interferes with their heads. The photo is ever so slightly tilted anticlockwise. Why cut off that one hand? The list goes on.

My point is not to rain on these ladies’ parade. My point is that when someone says “GREAT WORK” on Facebook, that does NOT make you a museum-ready pro. The photo is nice as a memento of three friends getting together. But it is not great as a photo. Keep that in mind, and before you go full time pro, have your work critiqued independently, and fill the knowledge gaps everyone has.

 

Oh vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas.

An ancient Latin saying. Obviously ancient if it’s Latin.

And a self portrait, obviously not ancient, unless perhaps my age puts me into that category.

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Oh vanity of vanities, all is vanity.  Manual focus on an object that is sitting where I will be. Then use the timer shutter release. Camera on a tripod. or on a table.

So is this a “vanity” photo?

No, it is more of a storytelling photo. Photos can be more interesting if they imply that there is clearly a story behind the photo, and it is not a straightforward one like “happy clown”.

If you are on my course: much more coming. If not: get the books, come back here, and keep reading. Enjoy!

 

Dutch Master Classes

The Dutch Masters of the 17th century created visual art the likes of which the world had never seen. In what you might call an explosion of creativity, they changed visual art, its accessibility, and its popularity forever.

It turns out that they had certain commonalities. In particular, they combined the following:

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  • An amazing amount of technical knowledge.
  • Fortuitous timing: technology, education, trade, and societal wealth were all on their side.
  • A great degree of creativity.
  • A great emphasis on light.
  • A love of realism.
  • Clear picture storytelling (“narrative directness”).
  • A love of portraiture.
  • Great informal rapport with their subjects.
  • Master Classes, held by experts for their apprentices.
  • An inquisitive and exploratory nature. A number of Dutch Masters travelled to Italy to learn Light Theory.
  • The Masters carefully painted some nudes—as much as the times allowed.
  • They engaged in speculative art: for the first time, they created art without a sale, in the hope it would sell later.

It turns out that these are exactly the things that makes photographers great. Hence the Dutch Master Class theme: you can learn from history. The Dutch Masters would be delighted that their art, their learning, their creative insights are being used and taught today, almost 500 years later. In my Dutch Master classes, that is what I do: by continuing the tradition of many centuries, I set your creativity free.

I am therefore happy that this message is catching on. This blog is widely read; my workshops are popular (The October 16 Hands-On Flash workshop has just one spot left), and my non-DRM e-books are read worldwide.

These are great days for photographers, whatever doom and gloom messages you may hear. Sure, there will be change, but photography is not about to become less popular. Today, there is an easier-than-ever path from a vision in your head to a beautiful print on museum paper (or an image on your screen). Allow me to help you achieve that dream, the dream of being able to visualise your artistic vision and create lasting art.

And this blog will help, as will the other ways in which I teach. Stay tuned and see you on one of the seminars.

Pic of the day: Travellers. ravellers

travellers

I always carry a camera. Doesn’t this pic shout “Travellers”? No comfortable seating; he is on his smartphone; she is looking at her fingernails; aircraft operations go on slowly in the background. A big but not too busy airport (Las Vegas? No. So where? I cannot remember). Where are they going? Where is their carry-on luggage? Questions.

Assignment

Here, from years ago, is an assignment for you:

Put your 50mm f/1.8 lens on your camera and, using just available light, go shoot twelve things in your living room that show its character. Or shoot lots, but pick the best twelve.

Then put these together in a 3×4 arrangement, like this (yes that was my living room at the time):

Living Room Miniatures

This assignment forces you to look properly. What is it that shows the character? What makes for a simple shot? It also forces you to use the right techniques for simplifying and filling the frame. And you get to practice low-light shooting, selective focus, and so on.

But most of all, you get to think about subjects. Initially you’ll struggle to find ten – then suddenly 100 pictures will suggest themselves.

Show me your results!

Some composition techniques

This morning, I ran an outdoors workshop in Toronto, for US-based Digital Photo Academy. And I took some snaps, although I was not there to shoot.  (I think I was there to melt: it was 30ºC and 95% Relative Humidity).

So anyway: let’s look at a few of the compositional principles I used.

Reflections

Reflections…

What was it that struck me in the image above?? The perfect symmetry. Flat water, clear reflections. And white sky (and hence water). Learn to spot reflections–just in case. This is a case where you do put things in the middle, rather than using the Rule of Thirds.

Sightsseing in motion

Sightseeing in motion.

Above: Motion. I “panned” with the bus, i.e. I moved my lens with the bus, at 1/30 second. That way, the passengers are sharp, while the background is streaked in the direction I moved my lens (left-right).

Next, this photo of a certain well-known tower:

Coilour coordination

Colour coordination

…which is a good example of framing. I am using the buildings and the tree to frame the CN tower. So it’ll go to prison for a murder it didn’t commi…. oh never mind.

Next, some words.

Culture, and progressive values

Culture, and progressive values.

People in front of signs are interesting when the words mean something. Culture. And is that two men pushing the baby–stroller? Questions are good. rather than spoon-feeding your audience, make them work out what’s happening, You can spoon-feed babies, instead.

Now to bigger matters:

"Exit Stage Left"

“Exit Stage Left”. Waterfront

Great stage, especially when seen through a 16m lens (on a full frame camera). Sharpness, symmetry, and the Maple Leaf flag.

CN Tower

CN Tower.

In that picture, we see a blurred CN tower—but only blurred a little. The framing tree is sharp. And above all else, we see… simplicity. A golden rule of good photography:simplify, simplify, simplify, simplify, and simplify.

The same applies to this:

Master of its domain

Master of its domain!

And I presume you see the Rule of Thirds being applied there too. As well as in this picture:

Fun and joy

Fun and joy.

And that picture is, of course, all about the Right Moment. And about another rule: “If It Smiles, Shoot It”. 

 

People and their devices..

People and their devices.

A snap of a person wrapped up in her iPhone.

Short Final

Porter on (Very) Short Final.

An airplane photo. Because why not.

And then, back to progressiveness:

A progressive city

A progressive city, eh.

Toronto really is a very progressive city. (Though now, with a career politician at the helm, I wonder).

What I need not wonder about was today’s weather.  30ºC, and 95% Relative Humidity, interspersed with frequent heavy downpours, and air that looked like it was trying to start to rotate. Those clouds looked dangerous:

Dark skies

Dark Skies. Incipient Rotation.

What was I using there? Clear subject, simplicity, Rule of Thirds.

Do some of your own now. And think, consciously, about the principles and techniques you can use. Your pictures will be better for it. Take one of my courses if you need to learn. The good news, “it’s all just technique” and “it’s all simple to learn”.

Have fun!


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