a photo study: the photographer IV

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Sony RX100 3    f/11  1/250    8.8m   800 ISO

Learning should be a continuous, life long process. Each stage represents a learning curve and every time you feel yourself reaching a plateau, it is time to move on to the next stage of your development. Initially you learn from the greats, then you learn from your peers, then you learn from your own body of experience, but the key is to persist and break out to the next level. ~Dan K

This week’s a photo study is a continuation of last week’s blog, The Photographer III , in which I focused on the Dan K’s first step, “Get an Eye for Photography.”  So to help us learn the art of photography let’s move on to Steps 2 through 7.

Step 2: Grasp the Basics

  1. Develop an understanding of perspective (position and focal length).
  2. Gain knowledge about focus (distance, aperture and depth of field).
  3. Explore the shutter speed and exposure.
  4. Study all aspects of color.
  5. Create a project that combines a learning experience with a presentation
  6. Return to Step 1, Get an Eye for Photography.

Perspective refers to the visual phenomenon where objects that are nearer to us appear bigger while those farther away seem smaller. In photography, perspective is influenced by 3 factors: Focal length, Shooting distance, and shooting angle.

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Focal length is a measure of the lens’ angle of view and is normally expressed in millimeters (mm).  Using a short focal length will offer the photographer a wider angle of view and less magnification.  These two elements create a strong perspective effect.

Conversely, the longer the focal lengths creates a narrower angle and  greater magnification while weakening the perspective effect.

Distance from subject (shooting distance or “focusing distance”): The nearer the camera to the subject, the stronger the perspective effect. The further away the camera from the subject, the weaker the perspective effect.

Shooting angle: The more parallel your camera is to the subject (the shallower the shooting angle), the weaker the perspective effect. Conversely, if you align the camera at a steeper angle from the subject, you will get a stronger perspective effect.

In short, the easiest way to get the strongest perspective effect possible is to use a wide angle lens, move as close to your subject as possible, and shoot from a steep, diagonal angle.

The perspective exaggeration effect unique to a wide angle lens can help to create impressive photos with a strong sense of depth, dimensionality and scale. This is a good effect to use with deep focus.

Depth of field:

Aperture & Exposure:

To demonstrate differences of exposure with variations of aperture the images below were photographed with the same focal length (8.8m), ISO (100), and shutter speed (1/500s).  The aperture in the first image is f/5.6, the second f/3.5, and the last f/2.8.

To demonstrate variations of exposure each of the images below were photographed with the same focal length, ISO settings, and exposure composition of -.03.  The shutter speed of the first image is 1/1000s. The middle image’s shutter speed is 1/2000s, and the last is 1/250s.

Color:  To be explored in a future photo study.

At this stage it is good to develop a basic understanding of these basic so that you will be able to have some control over the composition of your images and to build your technical skills with each click of the shutter.

By starting out right, with an understanding of what a good photo looks like, confidence may take a beating at first but you’ll be on the right path with less time wasted with follies into unnecessary gear or special effects ~Dan K

Step 3:  Be Reductive

This stage includes developing awareness of the elements within your image that have the potential to be distracting and learning techniques such as selective focus and lightening to help you direct the viewer’s eyes within the image.  Learning the restrictions within elements of focal length, black and white, and ISO.  Explore bending  rules and identifying where the edge of the performance and aesthetic overlap.

This is also the point where you start to develop a signature style. As always, go back to the beginning and see how your new knowledge applies to what you’ve learned before. ~Dan K

Step 4: Once you can TAKE A Picture, Learn how to MAKE A Picture

This is the stage where you learn creativity rather than observation. Learn how to arrange things for best composition rather than position yourself. Learn how to find and use natural light, or how to mimic it with flash. Learn how much control you can exert over the subject, context and equipment without losing the dynamic of the moment, the freshness and spontaneity. The goal is to be able to pro-actively get the shot that you wanted rather than being a passive observer.

This is a watershed in many a photographer’s career, when they become dependable shot makers rather than opportunistic photographers. Do not consider taking on any semi-commercial work until you can reliably deliver a consistent work product…~Dan K

Step 5:  Learn to Edit

We all need to be better editors of our own work. It’s not just about fixing things in post; I’m talking choosing about which images to show and which to throw.

A portfolio is often let down by a bad image. Unfortunately, if you haven’t worked through from step one, you might not be able to tell the difference between a mediocre image and a good one ~Dan K

Step 6: Find Yourself

We eventually get to a point where we are comfortable with a certain look, a certain subject, or genre. Our work becomes recognizably ours. Sometimes this is done intentionally, sometimes we become well known for a subset of our work and everyone wants more of it.

Once you have your signature style and something to say, individual images take on singular meaning, rather than being about the gear and the mark it left on the image. You can’t buy this in a camera store and you can’t pay someone to teach it to you. ~Dan K

Step 7: Reinvent Yourself

Break out of creating essentially the same image again and again with subtle variations.  Break out of this rut and find a second and a third style.  Once well known many artists, especially commercial painters, get stuck reproducing essentially the same picture again and again with subtle variations.

By this stage, you no longer reference other people’s work; they reference yours. May we all reach this point! ~Dan K

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gaze

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I longed for snow while we were staying there, but just then I had to go home to my parents. Two days after retiring from the Court a great snow came. The old familiar trees of my home reminded me of those melancholy years when I used to gaze upon them musing when the colours of flowers, the voices of birds, the skies of Spring and Autumn, moon shadows, frost and snow, told me nothing but that time was revolving, and that I was menaced with a dreary future. ~The Diary of Murasaki Shikibu (cited: Diaries of Court Ladies of Old Japan)

a photo study: the photographer III

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2012

When I first saw the “Stages of a Photographer” graph, I laughed with the memories of expectations that came with my first Nikon purchase in 1984; in no time,  I would be creating images equal to those in the National Geographic.  Cringe.

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2013

The Stages graph inspired me to explore Youtube videos of photographers who share  their learning journey and this search led me to the website, Japan Camera Hunter  who features Dan K’s, A Learning Framework for Photography.  

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2014

Step I Get an Eye for Photography

A reasonably acute Artistic Eye should be the fundamental foundation upon which your photography should be built, rather than something you will get round to once you’ve topped out on your technical expertise.

  • If possible find a mentor, or a teacher who will show you their best work and critique it together.
  • Look at photo books and images in photo collections.  Find the images that speak to you and go over them with your mentor.
  • Learn to appreciate a good image, be it a photograph or a sketch.
  • Pick a genre that can be done with basic skills and focus not on the equipment, execution or look, but on making the image engage the viewer as intended.

Focus, sharpness, depth of field, lightening, color, all that kind of thing is embellishment. Even composition is subordinate to the engagement, to the message and to the reaction that you hope to elicit…

  • Go through the whole classical learning cycle with each photo, each session, each project:
    • Take the photo.
    • Decide what you like or don’t like about it.
    • Consider what you could have done better.
    • Ask yourself how this learning applies to other photos you took or have seen
    • Apply this to your next photo and repeat the cycle.

Feedback and learning is what separates an improving photographer from someone that sprays-and-prays but never improves…the learning process never finishes.

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  • When you have reached a plateau in your learning curve
    • Don’t let your photography stagnate
    • Consolidate your learning
    • Prepare a project of your learning journey
    • Consider what other fresh avenues you can pursue to improve your work

At the end of this step you should have a fair understanding of what an interesting and compelling image looks like and how to make one, even if the execution is rudimentary.

By starting out right, with an understanding of what a good photo looks like, confidence may take a beating at first but you’ll be on the right path with less time wasted with follies into unnecessary gear or special effects.

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2018

Dan K’s learning steps 2 through 7 guidelines will be covered in next week’s A Photo Study.  If yo wish to share, I would love to hear about or see examples of your personal photo journey.  Let’s tag with #aphotostudy.

I hope you enjoy Sean Tucker’s personal narrative of his journey

Toy Store

“We must look deeply to identify the real suffering of our times and to understand how it has come to be. Our modern way of living brings tension, stress and pain to our body; we are exposed to anger, violence, and fear; we live with the threat of terrorism, the destruction of the ecosystem, war and famine, climate change, the economic crisis, recession, poverty, social injustice, broken families and divorce, and so much more.

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Toy Store…  Nikon D750   f/1.8  1/25s  35m   100 ISO

How are we living? How are we consuming? What violence, fear, and anger are we ingesting every day through the media around us? How is our lifestyle polluting the environment and creating a toxic level atmosphere for our bodies and our minds, for our families and for future generations?  If we can call the suffering, the real ill-being of our times, by its true names and if we an see how it has come to be, we will know exactly what kind of medicine, what kind of healing we need in order to deal with it. The truth of ill-being will reveal the end of ill-being.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh (The Other Shore)