Some Thoughts on Image Making
Attached are my thoughts on image making for you to peruse.
I was please that the talk seem to go down well as it is always a bit stressful doing it in front of your own crowd.
One or two members came up to me afterwards to say that they had enjoyed the talk, and that made me feel that all the preparation and hard work was all worth while.
These notes are for anyone who wishes to take their photography seriously and go beyond the ‘point and shoot stage’. Rather than dealing with the technical aspects of image making, here we concentrate on the vision and seeing aspects by using a feature common in most cameras, the viewfinder frame.
Photography Curator and Critic John Szarkowski said:
“Photography is a system of visual editing. At bottom, is the matter of surrounding with a frame a portion of one’s cone of vision, while standing in the right place at the right time.”
We should never fail acknowledge our aptitude to see and make images and believing that our visual senses are either a gift we are born with or one we will never possess because, it cannot be learned. In fact anyone can learn these processes to perfect our visual senses enabling us to see and make fine images.
Seeing and making photographs is an instinctive process, and it is not easy to explain, how we see and make pictures. We could compare it to driving a car, once we have mastered the basic technique; we drive the car without thinking about it as your instinct takes over.
There are two questions we must mentally always ask ourselves before we make any image are ‘what made me stop here’ and ‘why I am making this image’. By asking ourselves these questions we are focusing and concentrating our vision though and seeing processes on the subject before us. If we cannot justify these questions to ourselves we should not be making the image in the first place, and move on in search of our next intended subject.
Our photographic images display our imagination, past and present experiences, our interests and our way of seeing and vision. After all pictures come from pictures, so we should study our previous images and other photographer.s images, and also the great photographers images, but never copy them. By copying them we will never improve our vision and seeing capabilities.
The disposition of photography is by the practice of subtractive composition, enabling the photographer to conceal and remove by use of camera viewpoint and camera position any unnecessary objects in the camera’s viewfinder frame, as anything touched by light will be recorded by the camera. Therefore everything that is present in the cameras viewfinder frame has to have a good reason for being there. We must therefore eliminate all the visual clutter and distractions so as not to dilute the message communicated from our image to the viewer of the image.
We must also remember the so called rules of composition in photography are only guidelines and suggestions, and should not be adhered to rigorously, but be interpreted freshly for every new image we make. Not all images require a centre of interest; some images are made with the purpose of allowing the viewer’s eyes to wander freely over the image. Some images distinctly flout the rules of composition and are made to deliberately disrupt the viewer’s vision and hold their attention. This can make the viewer react in a very different way to the image.
Making photographic images is a very personal thing and we should not be put off by criticism from others. Non constructive criticism does nothing for the image or the person who made the image. For a viewer of our image when asked for their opinion of the image to say ‘I like it,’ is after all a negative statement, saying nothing about the image. The viewer of the image must give a more positive feedback to the creator of the image and has to state why they like or dislike the image for their opinion to be of any value to the person who made the image. After all, we make images for ourselves first, and also for our own personal satisfaction. As long as we are happy with our images the opinions of others do not matter, however if others happen to like our images, that is a bonus.
As photographers we must remember that the photograph is an illusion of the real thing, as it is a two dimensional record of a three dimensional subject. Therefore we must take into consideration that all photographic images are not really reality. They are parody in the sense that the image recorded on a flat piece of paper or viewing screen, and can fool our vision and brain that it has depth and space. The only real reality a photograph has is the paper it is printed on and the emulsion and ink that record the image on the paper. As far as the image viewed on a viewing screen is concerned it does not have any solid virtual reality at all like a print.
In these notes we will go through the various aspects of the thought and vision processes involved in making successful images. Through our perception and intuition, light, seeing, viewpoint and camera position, feeling, reacting, and using selecting and extracting to master the way we use conventional image making and digital technology to achieve interesting and successful images.
Although these thought and vision processes are dealt with separately on the following pages they are all interlinked to each other in our image making, and are part of the seeing and making procedure when producing images. These processes are performed by us instinctively and instantaneously by our senses at a subconscious level of our thinking, and vision processes. Our thought, inspiration and vision processes when making photographic images have not changed, although the technology we use has changed the way we achieve the final image.
There are a further three attributes which are not classed as vision processes that are important to us as photographers, they are passion, stamina and patience these none vision characteristics will be discussed later. Serious photographers should have these attributes to be able to make successful images. Let us now first have a look at the roll of vision, perception and intuition in the process of image making.
Vision Perception and Intuition
Vision, perception and intuition are three senses that are not easy to define, as they are part of our inner mind that tells us that things are just right, when we are discovering, seeing and using these processes when making images. Perception and intuition are part of the seeing and vision process and we have to perfect and fine-tune our perception and intuition and vision to improve our seeing powers for discovering suitable and interesting subject matter. Our vision, perception and intuition have to be tuned into the details of our intended subject before our eyes. We could say that our perception and intuition is our sixth sense, or our third eye. Vision, perception and intuition in image making help us in dealing with the time-space aspects involved in image making. We have to be able to make the image elements and the positive and negative space seen in our camera.s viewfinder frame work to our advantage to make successful images. Our brain has to convert a three dimensional subject into a two dimensional image in a matter of seconds, and we have to have an image in our head of how the elements of the subject will look in the finished print or dpi.
The coordination of our brain, eye, perception and intuition has to be combined to accomplish the art of good image making. Our perception and intuition help us in our decision making in producing our image, and how we select the correct lens focal length, aperture, shutter speed and decide whether we want the image to be vertical format or horizontal format. We also have to use our perception and intuition to eliminate any extraneous subject matter in the camera viewfinder frame.
It is not enough to just point the camera and press the shutter button, this leads to mediocre images full of visual clutter with ill defined subject matter. We have to use our vision, perception and intuition so that we know where to point the camera from our finally selected viewpoint and camera position, and the instant when the shutter should be released when all the elements of the image come together to make a fine image.
Light is a very crucial part of the image making process, for if we did not have light we would not have photography as a means of self expression. One of the most essential skills a photographer can have is the ability to read and interpret the light before him, or her. By being able to read the light at the time of making the image, the photographer is in an excellent position to be able to make better images. If the photographer analysis the subject he is about to photograph, the light probably is the major reason for deciding to make the image in the first place. Light is the key to good photography regardless of subject matter. The photographer does not photograph the scene or subject before him he photographs the light, as the camera digital, or film, can only record light reflected from the subject. This in turn affects our feelings for or against the image and can influence our decision whether we should make the image or not.
The type of light falling on the subject can determine many factors that add or detract from the mood of the image theme that is conveyed to the creator of the image. For example it can determine how we the creator of the image views the subject matter, and how it will affect our attitude and feelings we have in relation to the subject matter. The intensity of light is a very important factor in the process of making images, as it influences the photographer.s reaction to the subject matter and later the viewer.s reaction to it. The strength of the light and the subject can greatly influence how the viewer of the image reacts to the image. Images recorded in high intensity sun light can give the viewer the feeling of a bright and cheerful atmosphere when viewing the image. Really low intensity light can give the viewer the feeling doom and gloom, however some low intensity light images can create mood in the image, which can lead to a more successful image.
There are different kinds of light, such front light, back light, side light, low contrast light, high contrast light, hard light, soft light, warm light and cold light. All of these different types of light have considerably different effects on the subject matter and define the image that we make, and how it will be read by the viewer. Patience, which will be discussed later, is also a virtue we photographer.s must have, particularly in landscape photography as we often have to wait for the right lighting conditions for our intended subject. We must now turn our attention to an essential aspect of image making, seeing.
To be able to really see, one must open not only one’s eyes. One must above all, open one’s heart.
Gaston Rebuffat the French Alpinist.
Seeing is a major factor in the image making process to obtain successful images, but Insight is the difference between seeing and not seeing. Insight is the positive path to making better and more interesting images. It can be developed by a more in depth understanding of all aspects of photographic image making. Insight is also what separates the great photographers from the ordinary photographers.
For example a blind man has his sight restored and the doctor said to him “what can you see” his reply was “the world is full of wonderful colours and things”. We as photographers must think as if we have just had our sight restored and be able to see everything as fresh and in new way. It is not pixels or chemistry that creates the image it is our own vision, Seeing Eye and our perception and intuition that makes interesting and successful images.
Rigorous and intensified seeing is an unquestionably important procedure in the process of making photographic images, and produces the strongest image possible of our intended subject. It has been said that some people have a photographic eye; however this may be because that a particular person has a more highly tuned vision, perception and intuition and uses this skill in the process of discovering new subjects for their photographic images and recording them in a new and different ways. We look all the time, but we do not always see the details of the world around us in the way we should. We look at the world around us in a laid-back way, taking in only the details of the general scene that is relevant to us at that particular moment in time. Looking is a casual way of seeing, to really see we have to thoroughly look at our intended subject and focus our seeing in a more precise way.
By really seeing and using our eyes in a more precise way we can recognize the elements that are going to make a successful image, avoiding unwanted intrusions in the camera’s viewfinder frame. Concentrated seeing is a more objective and precise way of looking, enabling us to gather more information about the subject. Seeing can be taught by viewing other photographers work and analysing the construction of the image elements in their images.
This self tutoring exercise helps us through time to gain experience in difference aspects of photographic image making. In going through this tuition process we must avoid copying any particular photographer.s style of image making, and develop our own way of seeing and image making. We have to open our eyes and our vision processes to the world around us to help us discover and make successful images. The more information that we can collect with our eyes on our subject, the more interesting and successful our intended image will be.
When making our images we have to scan the full area of the camera viewfinder frame to make sure there are no obtrusive and intrusive elements that will spoil our images. Making images can be both difficult and easy, or fast and slow depending on the subject matter that we are trying to record. We therefore must not allow our image making to become a barrier for seeing that can spoil our success when making our images. We have to be receptive to our subject if we are going to achieve a successful image. There has to be no doubt as to what the main subject in the picture is by filling the camera viewfinder frame with it, for our picture to be a success. We have to be able to organise the elements of the subject that we see in front of us, in the strongest way possible to achieve success.
We must remember the camera has a different way of seeing the subject, from the way our eyes and brain see it. The camera sees things with monocular vision, our eyes and brain sees things by binocular vision. Our eyes scan the subject and the brain selects only the important parts of the subject. The camera cannot make these selections and records everything in its field of view. This is why we have to educate our brain to see the way the camera sees the subject to avoid disappointment with our final image. The camera also condenses the three dimensional subject that our eyes see into two dimensions. This is a very crucial aspect that we have to take into consideration, when we are making our images. As a photograph is recorded on a flat plane, it can only give the illusion that it has depth and space.
There are two aspects that come into play as far as reaction is concerned when seeing and making images. One is the photographer’s reaction to the subject and the other is the viewer’s reaction to the image. It does not matter whether our subject is a landscape, still life or an action shot, intuition and reaction still applies. The way we react to the subject and our feelings at the time of making the image has a considerable effect on the final image.
We have to be familiar with the subject to know exactly when to trigger the camera shutter, either to capture the peak of the action, or when the elements of the subject come together in the strongest compositional arrangement in the viewfinder frame. One of the great photographers of the last century, photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson called this moment of intuition and reaction the “decisive moment”.
The way we interact to the subject can contribute to our own personal style of photography. Cultivating a personal style helps the viewers of our images recognise the images that we produce from other photographers work. Our social standing and all our past experiences are imbedded in our images in the ways we react to the subject, and this also contributes to our personal style
Our reaction to different subjects is very personal; and we record the image subject matter in our own personal way, so we are in every image we make. Therefore we cannot hide behind the camera. Our reaction will be different depending on whether our subject is to be recorded in black and white, monochrome or colour. When we are confronted with a full colour subject before our eyes we have to imagine how the subject will appear in black and white or monochrome, not an easy task for us to perform. The decision of whether the image will be in colour or monochrome is always made in the mind of the photographer at the image making stage, and is governed by the subject matter.
If we had been using black and white film in the camera, we would have had to imagine and visualise how our final image will have looked as a black and white or monochrome print. If we are using a digital camera, this decision is easy and may be made in the camera, but it is better to make it later at the image editing stage when making the print. At the post-visualization stage the image that has been recorded as a colour or black and white image can have a considerably different reaction on us, and more so the viewer of the image.
When we are image making we have to take into consideration how the viewer will react to the image. Whether they like or dislike the image and whether they can read our meaning in the image, can lead to a successful on unsuccessful image.
Viewpoint and Camera Position
In the process of seeing and making images viewpoint and camera position plays a key and vital part in our though and vision processes when making images. Our viewpoint and camera position is only second in importance to seeing when using the combined image making procedures that make up our thought and vision processes, when making images. We should use our viewpoint and camera position to enable our subject to fill the camera viewfinder frame. This is important as we and the viewer of our image will be left in no doubt what the main subject matter is.
What position we decide to make our viewpoint and camera position can have a great deal of influence on the image that we are making, as our viewpoint and camera position determines what we include or exclude in the camera’s viewfinder frame and ultimately in our final image. Using our viewpoint and camera position in this way gives us the option of cropping the image at the concept and recording stage of making our image. Cropping our image at the recording stage is better as no image pixels are lost as would be if the image is cropped at the image editing stage.
Some times a more critical viewpoint and camera position is the only option as certain image elements have to be precisely aligned in the camera’s viewfinder frame. Also our viewpoint and camera position has sometimes to be decided in relation to the angle of the existing light conditions falling on our intended subject. This can also restrict the number of viewpoint and camera position options open to us. In these types of circumstances our viewpoint and camera position choice is very limited, or has to be fixed in one location with no other choices available.
We have to make instantaneous decisions of whether we have a closer or farther away, high, low, left side, and right side or eyelevel viewpoint. If our viewpoint and camera position happens to be at a 45 degree angle to our chosen subject, we have to take into account the lens aperture that we set. The reason we have to take this into consideration is the set aperture that you choose must be small enough to give full depth of field coverage across the tilted image plane.
The elements that make up our image can be re-arranged in the camera viewfinder frame by our viewpoint and camera position, to draw the viewer’s eye to particular aspects of the subject in the image. The main subject of our image can be strengthened or weakened by our viewpoint and camera position, when making images. Slight changes in our viewpoint and camera position can dramatically change the balance and structure of the elements of our image within the camera’s viewfinder frame edges. Also the image’s foreground and background can be altered and influenced by viewpoint and camera position.
Viewpoint and camera position can also control the way that the elements that make up the image are presented to the viewer of the image in a more cohesive way. This is where subtractive composition can also influence the opinion of the viewer of the image, and how the viewer reads the arrangement of the subject elements.
There is no one correct viewpoint and camera position for every image that we make. We therefore have to explore different viewpoints and camera positions before we finally decide to make our image. In the process of selecting our viewpoint and camera position we have to decide of all the different viewpoints and camera positions that we tentatively select, which one is the best for the particular image that we are about to make. Our viewpoints and camera positions that we finally select and choose influences our image making style and they strongly contribute to our individual interpretation of the subject in our image.
An unusual viewpoint and camera position can lead to making an extraordinary image, which in turn can be a more successful image. The viewpoint and camera position that we select can have a major influence on how and where our final image can be used. Therefore our perception, intuition, and particularly our selection processes all play very important roles in our vision and image making thought processes, through our chosen viewpoint and camera position.
With reference to our finally selected viewpoint and camera position, it must be realised that when we trigger the camera shutter to make the image the elements that make up the image will remain forever enclosed within the boundary of the image frame.
Selecting and Extracting (with your Camera)
When making close up or landscape, or other genre images, we can only select and extract a portion of the whole subject that is before the camera, even if we use an extreme wide angle lens or later make a multiple stitched panorama image. Selecting and extracting from the whole subject is about making choices. The choices we make using the selection and extraction process are of great consequence in making images.
What we include and exclude in the camera’s viewfinder frame using selection and extraction is especially important and can have great bearing on our final image. This is done by using the process of subtractive thinking and subtractive composition, which is the essence of photography.
The photographer Ray Metzker said:
‘The camera is nothing but a vacuum cleaner picking up everything within range. There has to be a higher degree of selectivity.’
We have to train our seeing and vision processes to conceal and eliminate any of the unnecessary elements in our intended image. Viewpoint and camera position are also an integral part of the selection and extraction process when making images as we are using our viewpoint and camera position to crop our intended image in the camera.
Our camera viewpoint and the selected camera position has a key influence on what is included or not included within the camera’s viewfinder frame borders, while undertaking the selection and extracting process when making images. So by using the selection and extraction process combined with a final viewpoint and camera position, this also dictates how and where the individual photographic elements appear inside the camera’s viewfinder frame.
Viewpoint and camera position as part of the selection and extraction process, contributes to the way we interpret the subject that we are making an image of and how our image will appear as a print or dpi. Our selection and extraction processes, which are the combination of the choices we make at the time when we are creating our image, can totally influence how our final image will turn out, and if it will be a success or disappointment.
Making a strong image is a matter of selecting and extracting from the whole subject before us the most important part of the subject. Our selection and extraction from the wider scene is the final choice in the selection process, and is the portion of the whole subject we decide to use as our final image.
During the selection and extraction process we also have to make the choice of whether our image is to be a vertical or horizontal image. The decision of whether our image is of vertical or horizontal format is decided depending on the way the subject is portrayed and this can influence the viewer’s interpretation of the image. Horizontal images can give of an influence of calm, vertical images can give the impression of soaring height. We have also to be able to arrange the elements of the subject into a pleasing arrangement when we compose our selected and extracted image area, whether the image is either a horizontal or vertical format.
What portion of the subject we select and extract from the whole subject is our personal way of seeing and is our way of interpreting the subject before us. This is why no two photographers see and record a subject in exactly the same way. The selection and extraction process can be seen in action, if for example we ask six photographers to record the same subject or scene, the resulting images would all be quite different. This selection and extraction process along with our reaction to the subject, can also illustrate a photographers individual style of making images.
Composition (Putting it all Together)
When composing photographic images the main problem encountered is, most people fail to gel their thoughts with enough clarity to serve as the basis for making the correct compositional decisions.
Composition is a complex subject and we cannot tell you how to make a good composition. We will also not foist the so called rules of composition upon you as they are not rules but suggestions and guidelines not to be strictly adhered too. There are numerous books out there which cover in great detail, everything you need to know about composing images. Here we can only suggest some considerations that you might like to think about.
Good composition lies in building on your intuition visual capabilities. There are clichÃ©that have been imbedded in composition for many years such as certain images needing centres of interest and the so called rule of thirds. As far as the rule of thirds is concerned it should be used with great care as it has been over used and can sometimes lead to technically perfect, but boring images.
There are certain aspects of composition that can be useful in our image making but there are no correct solutions for every image we make. Therefore as far as composition is concerned we have asses each of our intended images on its own merits and tailor our compositional organization of the image elements to it bearing in mind a very important factor, the images subject matter.
There are three principals of composition that can help when making images, they are as follows:
Exploration is assessing your intended subject from all sides and angles by using various viewpoints and camera positions.
Isolation is achieved by also using various viewpoints and camera positions, until one is found separates the main subject from the background.
Organisation is culmination of bringing all the elements in your image together using our vision, seeing and all the other elements combined to make a total subject approach and a cohesively structured image.
Good composition involves all of the stages of image seeing and making which are interrelated with each other and have been discussed in detail in the previous paragraphs of these notes.
The mantra for good composition is Simplify, Simplify.
Successful and Failed Images
We, and later the viewer of the image, will decide as to whether the image is a success or failure. To make a successful image we have to be able to convey the communicative spirit of the three dimensional scene which is converted into a two dimensional image by our camera, by arranging the subject elements in the strongest possible way in the camera’s viewfinder frame. Having made the image we have to ask the question, has the message in the image got across to the viewer? If it has, the image is a success. A successful image can make a lasting impression on the viewer and also motivate the viewer of that image into making successful images themselves. A successful image is a lasting image, be it one of beauty or of horror, for it has successfully transmitted its message to the viewer of the image. Even a technically imperfect image can be a successful image as long as the subject of the image is so rare and unusual, or of great importance, even if it is slightly out of focus or slightly blurred?
Failure to have a sincere interest in the subject that you are photographing can lead to inferior and failed images. Failure to identify the main centre of interest of our chosen subject can contribute to a cluttered failed image. Not recognising the difference in the way the camera sees the subject and the way our brain, senses and our eyes see the subject can result in a failed image.
Photographers can have their senses overwhelmed when making images as their senses pick up all of the non recordable aspects of the subject, such as wind, smells and sounds. Through our vision and seeing processes we have to be able to translate to the viewer the non vision aspects of our image such as, wind, smell and sounds experienced at the time of making our image.
Not noticing intrusions and particularly amputations caused by the edges of the camera’s viewfinder frame and in the image area can lead to spoiled and failed images.
The following examples are illustration of this.
- Why didn’t I notice the pole or tree growing out of that persons head?
- Why didn’t I notice that tree branch that has encroached into the camera.s viewfinder frame?
- Why didn’t I notice the persons leg, arm, foot etc was severed by the camera’s viewfinder frame.
- Why didn’t I notice the church spire was cut off by the camera’s viewfinder frame?
We therefore must be diligent and alert when looking through the camera’s viewfinder frame to avoid such intrusions and amputations in the image area enclosed by the camera’s viewfinder frame. By looking at the whole subject and not just concentrating on the main subject element enclosed by the camera’s viewfinder frame such anomalies can be avoided.
A failed image is an image that is unsuccessful in relating our idea to the viewer of the image. A confused and badly constructed image will be classed as a failure in the eyes of the viewer of the image, because the viewer will not be able to read the image. Failed images are the result of not following the vision, seeing, perception and intuition processes, and not putting proper thought and reason into these processes in our image making. Not being able to recognise our real intention when making our image also leads to failed images, due to being unable to make the photographic decisions that would enable us to achieve our proposed image.
‘Photography is a way of telling what you feel about what you see’.
We as photographers have to have a responsive relationship and interest in the subject to sanction the event of making images. We have to put our whole heart and soul into our image making, for if we do not do this our images will be ineffective and fail. As well as seeing we have to feel the subject that we are trying to record. Our feelings for the subject and the image we are making are essential for if we make images without feelings they will not be successful images. We have to remain sensitive to our subject and let our intuition and feelings guide us in our image making.
We have to also be aware of the subject we are photographing, and the meaning that the subject will pass on to the viewer of the image. Our images are also open to criticism from others, who view our images, now or in the future. The viewers of our images will also be affected by their feelings towards our images, and will react accordingly, expressing an opinion that they love or hate or like and dislike our images. Our vision must never be obscured by our feelings for the subject when we are making images.
The instinct and reactions that we experience when making our images are closely linked to our feelings for the subject of the image we are making. These instincts and reactions can also be affected by our social background and past experiences, and the way we interpret the subject matter of the image that we are recording. The feelings we have when producing our images are laid wide open for all to see, as part of us is in all the images we make. We are therefore exposing part of our inner self in the public domain when we show or exhibit our images to other people as prints or dpi’s. So in essence we cannot hide behind the camera.
Although not a visual quality in our image making, passion plays an essential role in our photography, for without passion our image making will become bland. The meaning of passion is ‘barely controllable emotion’. Therefore we must channel our emotion into our photography. We must be passionate about the subjects that we choose for our images. Strong passion, instinct and feelings are paramount in deciding how we choose and depict our subject. Without passion our images will be mediocre and will fall short to impress the viewer. To be passionate about our photography leads to more successful image making.
We have to have deep sentiment and conviction in our image making, and this is where passion comes into play. It is not enough just to point the camera and press the shutter button. We must endeavour to produce images which are beyond just record shots. Often the best images are made by people who are passionate about their subjects. We have to have passion and to love and enjoy our photography to satisfy our hunger for discovering and making successful images.
Patience and Stamina
Patience and stamina are closely interlocked in the many different genres of photography. Patience and stamina, like passion, are not visual characteristics in image making. Many photographers in the course of making images require maximum concentration when photographing particular subjects. This may also require long periods of inactivity working in adverse conditions of extreme heat or cold. Therefore the photographer must persevere and use their patience and stamina when making images in conditions that are not ideal.
Different genres in photography require patience on behalf of the photographer. Some of these genres are nature, portraiture, action and landscape, and many others. In nature we as photographers have to be patient to capture the shy and elusive animal, bird or insect. Portraiture requires patience to capture the natural expression and character of the sitter. Action images require the photographer to be able to react to the peak of the action, by being alert at all times. When making landscapes the photographer has to have patience to capture the best lighting and the best cloud formation to balance the composition of a landscape subject. Therefore we as photographers must have patience, and by having patience in our image making, we can reap the reward of top-quality images.
In many genres of photography the photographer with the most stamina will able to secure the best and the most exciting images. Stamina requires a lot of dedication from us as photographers to be able to see any project through to the end. We as photographers also require stamina to able to work in adverse conditions of snow, cold, rain, heat etc. In image making stamina shows an elevated self discipline on the photographer’s behalf in relation to their pictures. As photographer.s, it is our determination and stamina that will pay off and reward us in our image making. Without the attributes of patience and stamina in certain situations we would have little success and fail miserably in our image making. Therefore to be able to succeed when recording these types of subject matter, in these conditions, we as photographers must have lots of stamina.
By not properly understanding and mastering our camera we, as photographers, can lose out, and this can lead to continually failed images. Through this we might never go on to master the picture making process because we feel overwhelmed by our camera’s many features and technical options. The solution to this problem is read your camera.s manual thoroughly and if you do not understand any part of it, ask a more experienced friendly photographer to help you solve any camera problems.
Technology, in the way of more sophisticated cameras and equipment can contribute to making better images, if the equipment is used, and mastered properly. In the era of the fully automatic camera it can be very easy these days to let the technology take over the way we make images. By doing this we become lazy photographers and lazy photographers do not produce exceptional images. Having a better and more sophisticated camera does not make you a better photographer, only your imagination and vision can make you a better photographer.
We have to be able to override the camera.s technology to be able to see and make better images, by making our own decisions, and not letting the camera’s technology make the decisions for us. We are led to believe that the modern camera thinks, and makes decisions, it most certainly does not. Only the photographer thinks, makes choices and decisions, the camera is just a tool for recording light reflected from the subject, and a good photographer always keeps that in mind. The camera’s technology can also be accepted as well as overruled to enable us to create more interesting and better images, by using our intuition, perception and vision.
We have also to remember that it is the seeing, reacting, feeling, and selecting and extracting processes combined that creates good quality images. At the moment we live in a .ten second. society in which all things are changing at a very fast pace. We have to make sure that we produce images that will last and be interesting and hold the viewers attention for a lot longer than ten seconds, now and in the future.
Conventional and Digital Imaging
Before the days of digital imaging we used various forms of film to make our images. We had to contend with time and temperature to achieve our final goal of a well exposed negative, slide and printed picture. When using film we had no instant playback as a means of viewing our images recorded on film at the time we made the image. We now have the advantage of instant playback of our images on the rear view screen of the digital camera.
However the image shown is only a guide to what our final image will be and we must take that fact into account when viewing the screen image on the back of the camera. Viewing the image with the playback button also gives us the added option of retaining or deleting our images at the moment we make them. We must therefore use this advantage with caution, or we will find that if we are too hasty in deleting our images we may regret the action later. It would be more diligent and preferable to resort to this action later at the post editing stage, when we have had more time to study our images in greater detail on our computer screen.
The ISO setting in a film camera had to remain static for the whole film when we were exposing our film. However when exposing with a digital camera we have the advantage of changing the ISO setting midway through the image storage card and back again.
The other device we have within a digital camera is the histogram, which is used for checking our exposures. The histogram button on the camera when pressed gives us the option of not only viewing the image, but also the histogram graph; this gives us the advantage to check if the image has been correctly exposed. The histogram graph also lets us see how the light intensity across the image has been recorded by the camera.s sensor, and how it has been distributed across the tonal values. By examining the histogram graph we are able to see if the shadows in our image are blocked or the highlights are blown and showing no detail.
If you are shooting in RAW mode the image shown on the cameras rear viewing screen being based on a low resolution JPEG mode will not provide an accurate guide to the true potential of the image you have captured. The rear viewing screen image should NOT be used as a guide to the correct exposure. We should always use the histogram, as the histogram graph gives a more accurate evaluation of the correct exposure for the image. It should always be referred to when you have to make decisions about what the correct exposure for the image should be.
Years ago we also did not have the advantages of image editing programmes such as Photoshop that we have now as a means of post manipulation; we therefore had to use our darkroom skills in our post manipulation of our negatives. Image making has moved on since then with the change to digital imaging. With powerful image editing programmes like Photoshop we have to err on the side of caution when manipulating our images for a badly recorded image will never become a great image no matter how much you manipulate it.
The old mantra still stands from the days of film and the darkroom, garbage in garbage out. So it is always better to get the image right at the making stage when recording it with the camera as this can save a lot of extra time and consuming manipulation at the editing stage.
Yes, technology has changed drastically in the way we make our images, but the thought process behind our image making remains the same. In this present day and age as far as photography is concerned we are ensnared by the technical aspects and processes of digital imaging. In the plethora of technology that goes into making a digital image, have we in our struggle to master this new technology lost the art of good picture making? Is it the struggle that we have in understanding the colour management, colour space, histograms, resolution and the profiling processes used in digital imaging that could lead to stifling our ability to reproduce good images as finished prints?
We must not rely on our post image editing software to correct our faults and weaknesses made at the taking stage of our image. An inadequately exposed or un-sharp image will never be able to be post processed into a fine image by any post image editing software. We must remember that the digital image is only a means to an end, and the final result of our vision, seeing, perception and intuition abilities in making the final image. We must, however, not lose the fundamental basics of image making, and how we see and attain the image in the photographic process, regardless of how the final image is accomplished.
Digital imaging tempts us as photographers into making prints of images that are not authentic or truthful. This has the result of degrading our image making, and making it unacceptable to the viewer of our images. Although we could indulge in these practices when making conventional analogue prints, digital has made these processes much easier to achieve. The too good to be true digital image only brings the viewer of the image to the conclusion that it is not a truthful image. Whatever the temptation, we photographers have to avoid making this type of image at all costs as our images will immediately loose all credibility through the eyes of the viewer.
It is all too easy at the conception stage of our image making to rely on our digital image editing skills to eradicate any exposure or compositional errors at a later stage. This sort of behaviour encourages us to become lazy photographers producing inferior images at the creative phase of the image making process. Telling ourselves that our image is not quite right when we make it, but we can rectify it in our post image editing software later, is not going to do our image making any good. By following this path we are doing our selves and the images that we make an injustice. We must endeavour to produce the finest image we can in the camera at the image making stage, so we can achieve an exceptional final print or dpi.
Photoshop is not the Holy Grail and cure for all ills that some photographers think it is. The old adage must be mentioned here again, garbage in garbage out still holds true here. There is a paradox with Photoshop which is that we can become seduced by it causing us to sit in front of a computer for hours trying to make a photograph something which it is not. In image making your vision is more important than tools like Photoshop when it comes to creating images, as Photoshop is only a means to an end. When making images we should be far more interested in what is seen rather than what it can be changed into.
We must accept that the final sanctuary of the unimpressive photographer should not be the domain of computer digital imaging, nor is it a substitute for good image making technique and vision. Yes, digital imaging is the future of photography whether we like it or not, and if it is used with common sense it can produce exceptional pictures.
Today with lens based photography there appears to be a shift of emphasis from the conception and recording stage in image making to the post production stage using image editing software. It seems that the conception and recording stages of our image making are being relegated by the software post production stages of image making. The approach seems to be if it is not right at the making stage of the image we can always fix it in Photoshop. This is entirely the wrong type of attitude to adopt when we are making our images as we should be using our vision, thought and seeing processes when making our images.
There is a mind-set “look what I can do to, or have done to this image using the magic box of tricks called Photoshop” by using various filters and other processes. If we do decide to manipulate our image, we have to ask our self the following question. Does our image manipulation improve our image and the answer to the question is NO, then we should not be manipulating our image. We have to think carefully and seriously about decisions to manipulate our images and be able to justify our actions. It still should be upheld that lens based photography starts even before we pick up a camera. Our images should be made by using our perception, vision, thought and seeing abilities to discover and make them, not by the later use of image editing software to manipulate them.
If we can now return to the questions mention in paragraph one the Preface, ‘What made me stop here’ and ‘Why am I making this image’? These questions are relevant to the core of image making as they help us make informed choices and decisions about the subject matter and ultimately whether we decide to make the image or not.
Therefore, we must see more intensely and precisely when seeking and recording our subjects. There are no short cuts to the discovery and seeing processes that help us make better and more interesting images. We have to find new ways of discovering and seeing our subjects to be able to make new and exciting images, for us and the viewers of our images to enjoy, and acquire inspiration from them.
Our perception, intuition, selection and extraction processes construct and arrange the elements of the subject into our own personal way of the seeing the subject, in our image making. We have to have the inspiration to discover new and interesting images, by re-inventing our photographic subject matter, and ourselves as photographers. Using our heart as well as our perception, vision, intuition and seeing abilities that will help us to make better images.
Our image making is the window to our mind and personality and is the interpretation of our individual way of seeing and feeling for a particular subject before our eyes. I must repeat again the one thing we cannot do is to ‘hide behind the camera as we are there in every image we make’. The printed or projected image is the final thing we as photographers will be judged by different generations, who happen to view the image now and in the future from a different social standing. Therefore we must pursue our photographic image seeing and making, with passion, vigour, sensitivity, inspiration and vision, to achieve success and our image making goals.
Some Final Quotes
One of the hardest things to achieve with photography is to make an image that is simply written by the light reflected from the subject, but which causes the viewer to pause and see the world in a new way.
Quote by the landscape photographer David Ward.
Most of us look at a thing and believe we have seen it, yet what we see is often only what our prejudices tell us to expect to see, or what our past experience tells us should be seen, or what our desire wants to see. Very rarely are we able to free our minds of thoughts and emotions, and just see for the simple pleasure of seeing. And so long as we fail to do this, so long will the essence of things be hidden from us.
Quote by the British photographer Bill Brant.
‘The camera looks both ways,’ as the saying goes. Forward to the outside world, and backward into the soul of the photographer.
Quote by the landscape photographer Joe Cornish.
Copyright © Mr Sandy Wilson 2015