Presence

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a photographic term that I’ve grown to call “presence”. Some images seem to immerse the viewer of the photograph right into the scene as if they were an active participant or perhaps a bystander who is witnessing the event first hand. Yet others seem to convey more of a sense of distance – that of an onlooker who is trying to see but can’t quite figure out just what’s going on.

There is room for both scenarios in good photography, and often, presence can have a direct correlation to how compelling a photograph can be.

If you are trying to convey a sense of vastness, or loneliness, or to portray a scene that has room – perhaps a stark, barren place of desolation, then it seems logical to give the photograph some space. If you are trying to thrust the viewer into a situation that they cannot possibly back away from, then getting close is the answer.

There are a few things to be careful of however. Make sure that you are not so close that the viewer of the image has no context. On the other hand, make sure that you’re not so far away or you’re rendering the image in such a way that the focal point of the photograph is almost indistinguishable unless you’re looking at a rather large print hanging on a wall somewhere. If your target purpose for the image is Instagram for example, make sure that the things that need to be seen can be seen.

I’ve seen many images over the years where otherwise great photographs could have been made much more compelling if the photographer had only stepped fifteen feet forward before pressing the shutter release. And there have been many quite good photographs that were just too close leaving the viewer without enough context to properly get a feel for what’s going on.

So next time you’re taking photographs, try thinking about the term “presence” and pay attention to how compelling your image can be by simply adjusting your distance or your render.

Happy Shooting,

Doug

Looking at a Photograph

A few weeks back I blogged about a some of the things you can do to make your photography better. If you haven’t seen it, please read https://dougkeech.wordpress.com/2016/12/27/ten-things-to-strive-for-in-your-photography/.

Further to that post, I’d like to add a few more observations to each consideration and some of the specific factors that can influence such.

1.) Does the photograph possess a beauty in and of itself?

Influential factors: composition/balance, subject matter, light, tonality/contrast, colour

2.) Does the image shock you in some way as to keep you wanting to look?

Influential factors: subject matter, compositional technique, timing

3.) Does the image have a universal appeal or value?

Influential factors: shared experience, subject matter, timelessness

4.) Is the photograph poetic or symbolic of something larger?

Influential factors: shared experience, subject matter, photographic technique, processing

5.) Is the image interesting to look at?

Influential factors: subject matter, compositional technique, frame, moment

6.) Is the photograph significant in some way?

Influential factors: subject matter, uniqueness, relevance to the time, descriptive ability

7.) Is it useful in that it documents a place and time or describes a human condition?

Influential factors: relevance to a certain event, descriptive ability, encompasses a story

8.) Does the image spark an emotion in you?

Influential factors: gesture, intimacy, shared experience/memory trigger

9.) Does the photograph have enough context for you to know what you’re looking at?

Influential factors: distance, frame

10.) Has the photographer confined the significant detail and rid the image of the unimportant clutter?

Influential factors: frame

Garry Winogrand was quoted once as saying that it’s the photographer’s problem to figure out a way to make the photograph more interesting to look at than the thing actually being photographed. And obviously there are many more criteria that go into making a photograph than the ones mentioned here. However, I have found it a good exercise to go through each of the above things to strive for in your photography and try to think of examples of images that illustrate the points as a good example and as a bad example.

Happy Shooting,

Doug

Ten Things To Strive For In Your Photography

We are about to bring this year to a close. I’ve been busy not just taking photographs but also cleaning out my image library, archiving important images, and starting anew.

As this will most likely be most last blog post of the year, I’d like to leave you with a few things to think about. The idea for this post came about mostly because of what I’ve seen when I teach people photography. Many students I’ve had over the years have experienced difficulty editing their images. There is no doubt in my mind that editing (I’m not talking about post processing here) or weeding out your images so that you’re only left with strong ones, is a necessary skill that has to be developed just like any other skill. And for many it seems, it’s very difficult to get rid of your bad photos.

I also believe that images that are strong generally require very little in the way of post processing. I shoot mostly on film these days, so the only processing I find myself doing is dust and scratch removal, and maybe a tiny bit of dodging or burning.

All photographers have taken lousy images. And most have images that are mediocre, and some that are very strong. But I find that it’s very important to be your own critic and always be in the mindset of trying to objectively see your images from another persons standpoint.

Here are a few things I always try to ask myself when looking at photographs:

1.) Does the photograph possess a beauty in and of itself?

2.) Does the image draw you in or shock you in some way?

3.) Does the image have a universal appeal or value?

4.) Is the photograph poetic or symbolic of something larger?

5.) Is the image interesting to look at?

6.) Is the photograph significant in some way? 

7.) Is it useful in that it documents a place and time or describes a human condition?

8.) Does the image spark an emotion in you?

9.) Does the photograph have enough context for you to know what you’re looking at?

10.) Has the photographer confined the significant detail and rid the image of the unimportant clutter?

Now, you may not be able to satisfy all these criteria when taking your photographs, but trust me, it’s a good idea to always have these questions in the back of your mind when you’re editing.

Happy Shooting as always, and I wish you the best year of photography ever in 2017.

Doug

The Beginner’s Mind

_MG_4648 After-Edit

“The Beginner’s Mind can be elusive to a seasoned photographer. As we learn more and more about photography we often unlearn imperfection at the same time.“

Imperfection is important in photography because that is what gives our photographs soul. For many of us who spend time working on projects, it’s quite common that we start out looking for and hunting down those wonderful compositions. We want to find colourful sunrises, beautiful smiles, perfect family moments, and beautiful people for our images. Then one day we reach a point when we examine the images we have done and come to conclusion that something seems to be missing. Months or years go by and we are consumed by trying to find more meaning in our images. That elusive something is indeed getting the best of us.

We’re not all fashion photographers and we don’t all work for Vogue magazine. We’re simply trying to capture images that don’t look like a thousand other photos that you’ve seen before, and contain an element of truth to them, and perhaps even a tiny shred of what it means to be human.

Many photographers spend a great deal of time trying to make people look like something they are not. Let’s place this family in a beautiful setting. We will carefully arrange them to give the photo an overall balance. We stagger their heads so that the eyes are not all at the same level. We dress them in clothes that they will only ever wear when getting a professional photo done. And then we ask them to produce a smile on the count of three. We can even finish the photo off by supercharging the saturation of the colours, adding light where none existed and then add some falling leaves.

I don’t say this trying to be mean because all photographers including myself have been guilty of this. In many respects this is what we have been taught as photographers to produce, and it most likely is what sells.

The family sees their group photo for the first time and think, “Oh my goodness that’s beautiful! You’ve captured the colours so well. And I didn’t realize the sunlight was so gorgeous!”

The truth is that they didn’t realize the sunlight was so gorgeous because it probably wasn’t at the time. And in many cases the client attributes the effect to the skill of the photographer and the expensive camera they were using. It’s almost like magic.

The family will love the image and proudly display it on the wall of their foyer as a 36 inch canvas. Meanwhile, the snapshot of the kids laughing and jumping on the couch while mom and dad pick up the bowl of popcorn that spilled all over the floor gets filed into the old shoebox in the closet.

Fast-forward fifty years. You and your siblings are now retired with families and grandchildren of your own. Your parents are gone. You find the old snapshot in the shoebox in the closet while doing a spring cleaning. You say nothing as you hold the 4 by 6 tightly against your heart while tears roll down your cheeks.

But what of the 36 inch canvas? Well let’s just say that we lost track of where we put it years and years ago. That sailor suit that dad had on and the pursed-lipped smiles kinda looked silly anyhow.

Happy Shooting,

Doug

The Importance of Composition

What is it that attracts you to a photograph? And what is it about that image that makes you stop and look again? It could be the subject, the colors, the composition, the technical difficulty, or the particular personal meaning it has for you.

Over the years, I’ve seen people who always seem to be attracted to bright, vibrant colors in a photograph. But then, there’s the group of people who love black and white photography.

I’ll never fully understand the psychology behind what one person finds attractive about an image, and another doesn’t, but the bottom line is that art is very subjective. It is in the eye of the beholder.

When I look at an image, there are several things that can draw me in. Probably the most influential is composition. After I examine more technical things like exposure, tonality, and sharpness, I might look at mood, quality of light, the overall effectiveness, vibrancy, technical difficulty, or even the imagination it took to take the photograph. But I always seem to come back to composition.

When all is said and done, it could be the balance or harmony of the photograph that determines whether or not you feel good about it. Does the image make you feel at ease or does it give you a sense of tension that cries out to be resolved like a leading note in music?

Certainly many photo journalistic images will leave you with a sense of tension, but that’s what they’re trying to do. In nature or landscape photography, it is usually a sense of balance or a wondrous sense of awe that we want to achieve.

Time and time again, the composition of the photograph plays an important role in how I select photos for discard. It is one of the first things that I notice, and oddly enough, it is also one of the last things that affects me about a photograph.

We don’t always have to stick to the rules of photographic composition. Rules are a prison to our creativity sometimes. But we should always be aware of the profound effect composition has on the viewer.