Mastering Photographic Composition–Chapters 4 and 5

Whew! I haven’t been reading this book like I want to. I have been reading it off and on, but lets be honest here, it’s a lot like a text book, and I fall to sleep almost every time I sit (err…lie) down to read. I guess it all comes with being pregnant. I am SO tired.  All.the.time. I have to finish it soon because I can’t renew the book anymore, and I need to return it in a week. So, here’s a quick review of Chapters 4 and 5.

Chapter 4: Composing with Light
– light is essential in photography. Because of this, someone who desires to be a good photographer will seek out and learn as much about light as possible. A photographer loves light.
-Light is the integral part of composition. We don’t need just light, we need great light to take great photographs.
-“Best” light varies from photographer to photographer. It is all in personal preference. Finding good light is a matter of experience, knowledge, and using the right tools.
-Something to remember is that what makes good light in photography may not be what we consider good light in “real life.”

  • Bad (active) weather = good photographs. The times right after a storm or between two storms are great times to photograph. Light can change a common place scene for just a moment, and it is that moment that we want to capture. 
  • Chiaroscuro: lit yet unlit, dark and yet light. Chiaroscuro is a contrast of two lighting situations that are opposites of each other. 

-Knowing the position of the sun at a given time of year is essential. (There is a lot on this…too much to try to explain here.) Winter makes for great light because the sun is at a constant slant and the snow acts as a natural reflector. AWESOME…too bad winter also = freezing cold…at least in Iowa.
-Reflectors are a great tool to have, because they can take away shadows and mimic the light from sunrise or sunset.
-Natural reflected light is just that, reflected light. There is no direct sunlight. Reflected light can be saturated and colorful, intense and glowy, it is also a very soft light.
-Air light: only source of light is the open blue sky. This happens at sunrise/sunset when the sun is just below the horizon, but still lighting the sky. This light can also be found in narrow canyons that are just a few feet wide.
-Light quality changes throughout the day. A good experiment to try would be to take photos of the same object in the same place at different times of the day. Notice the changes in the color.
-Star trails…are awesome. I still need to figure out how to do it. I need a better lens though.
-Backlight is very dramatic lighting. The sun must be in a low position for backlighting to work. Basically, place the subject in front of the sun. It will highlight the contours of the object or scene. You can choose whether you want the sun in the scene or not.
-Open shade. One of the best kept secrets of photography, minimal contrast and no shadows.
-Reflections. You need: a body of water (large enough to capture the subject), and the element to be reflected. Reflection is a purely visual effect, so it is great for photography. You may have to do quite a bit of editing to get it just how you would like it, but it is worth the work.
-Silhouettes. Can be any color…not just black. Usually flat. They simplify complex objects.
-Lighting is not predictable, so be ever ready.
-Snow. Simplifies compositions, softens the contours of images, lace-like quality.
-Rainbows. Fleeting and unpredictable. Best rainbows (for photographing) happen at sunset.
-Light shafts. Can be created by grabbing a handful of sand and throwing it into the air. Letting it settle for a bit and then photograph.

Chapter 5: Composing with Color
-Three variables, Hue, Saturation, lightness
-Munsell’s color system (too much to put here)
-Color balance: adjusting the image so that neutral colors are represented correctly. Try to correct white/color balance while the image is still in RAW format. Balance is adjusted by changing the temperature, and the tint in a photo.
-Color Palette: selcting a range of colors that are going to be used in a photograph. Color palette is more artistic. Give yourself the freedom to alter the image and develop a personal style.
-Saturation: it is important concept, but often over used. It is important to find the best saturation for a given image. One with too much saturation looks fake. Over-saturation is easy, and that is why it happens a lot (either in an attempt to be artistic or to find a good balance). Adding saturation is a lot like adding more salt and pepper to something you cook (because it lacks flavor) instead of finding the right spices to add. How do you prevent over-saturation? Be aware of how often it happens (a lot), and acquire a taste for how much saturation is enough. This is best achieved by comparing your work to other work that you think has excellent saturation.
-Color seeing aides: includes things like filters, lcd screens, nigrometer, munsell color tree, color meters, gray cards and white balance, as well as the macbeth color chart (again, there is too much to list here).
-Important to take notes in the field. This will help you remember the feelings you had and what you were imagining when you took the photo.


Mastering Photographic Composition, etc.-Chapter 3

Chapter 3: The Eye and the Camera
-How do we make a photograph that matches what we saw, and also expresses how we felt? We need to become aware of the damage (caused by the camera) and know how to fix it.
-Differences between what we see and what the camera captures:

  • Contrast and Dynamic Range: The human eye is able to see details in scenes with huge contrast ranges. It is able to see the details in something very bright as well as something dark in the same scene. A camera can’t. It will render the very dark areas as black, and the very light areas as white.  We have never heard someone say “I cannot see this landscape because it exceeds the maximum dynamic range that my eyes can capture.” Our eyes are far superior than any camera. To resolve this issue one must create (through photoshop or another editor) a contrast that is close to what we saw.
  • Lenses: Wide-Angle Distortion: “Wide angle lenses are famous for distorting what nature created.”Sometimes this is good and can be artistic, but other times it produces unwanted effects like a curved horizon, stretched trees, and distorted buildings. Sometimes these can be desired, but it is also a good idea to make the photo as close to what you saw as possible. The solution? Buy a really fine lens (you get what you pay for). Second way is to use software. This can be done in the RAW converter. Many RAW converters have lens correction software. Photoshop (beginning with CS2) has a “Lens distortion filter” that can be used. It is better to use the RAW editor because photoshop is working with a photo that is one step ahead in the modification process. 
  • Lenses: Vignetting: Corners of the photograph are darker than other parts of the photo. Once again, it may be used for artistic purposes, but our eyes don’t see vignettes. If your goal is to produce a photo that reflects reality you don’t want this. You can adjust this in Photoshop by 1) using the lens correction filter, 2) dodging the corners of the image, and 3) create an adjustment curve with a layer mask restricting the density adjustment to the corners of the image. 
  • Lenses: Chromatic Aberration: In other words…halo’s. The shadows outlining an object. Can be fixed by using the Chromatic Aberration slider in RAW converters, or in Photoshop using the lens correction filter or by hand using the clone tool in color mode. 
  • Color Changes: The colors in the world are fixed at any specific time. Colors (to a camera) are not what they are in reality, they are what they record or in fact modify them as.
  • RAW conversion transformation: Using RAW conversion software, a photographer has almost complete control over the color and contrast of an image. We can change the image to match what we saw that the camera didn’t catch. “In this new world, it is the photographer, and not the equipment, that is the limiting factor.” 
  • Film Grain and Sensor Noise: Unwanted patterns in our image (usually resulting from low light) is Noise. This can be adjusted by using a low IAO setting. It is easier to change something overexposed than something under exposed.
  • Color Shifts: When the camera adds a magenta or green cast to the photo. You can take this our by using a curve and a layer mask during or after RAW conversion. 
  • Out of Focus and Blurred Images: “In contrast to the human eye, a camera can only focus on a single plane and relies on a set depth of field.” 

-A photographer is the soul of photography. It can be difficult to make a camera (a soulless, and inanimate object) see what we see. Here are some causes of this frustration:

  • Five Senses into One: We have 5 senses and usually are using all of them to experience the world. Not only to we see something, but we hear the noise around it, we smell, we feel the heat/rain/cold etc, Sometimes we can even use our sense of taste. The camera’s world is purely visual. We add the emotion. Expression of emotion must be done in a visual manner. 
  • Learning How to See: Learn to see like the camera does. (For example, I look out the window at my back yard everyday as I am doing the dishes. It is so beautiful and perfect in every season. It relaxes me and gives me a sense of peace. I will be so sad when we leave this home. My eyes have the capacity to block out the screen, the power lines, and the bird poop on the window. The camera would take all that in. Even if I stepped out the door, the camera would still capture the power lines, and the yellow snow. :D) Cameras also only capture the world at a specific ratio where we can see much more. I loved this: With beauty above me I walk, With beauty below me I walk, With beauty all around me I walk.  A camera simply cannot capture everything. We need to learn to see like the camera does. 
  • Capturing Emotion Behind the Lens: Keep a journal of feelings. Be able to interpret the RAW image and turn it into what you saw/felt. 

-All this takes practice, and years of hard work. Hone your technical skills. Practice day-in, day-out. “Obtaining mastery is a matter of perseverance combined with hard work, a refusal to give up and a constant search for solutions that afford you the finest image quality. 

    Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity, and Personal Style by Alain Briot–Chapter 1

    I don’t know if anyone reads this blog. I am sure it is obvious that I am an amateur. I love photography, have a DSLR (and am trying to learn how to use it), and have a passion for making beautiful things. I love seeing people smile and I love capturing their happiness and I love making them smile. So…to improve my photography skills, I thought it would be a good idea to read a couple or several books on photography. This is the first one. It is almost like a text book so it’ll be slow going, but I am going to start recording the things that I learn from each chapter. I have already read 3 chapters, so this post will be long. Sorry…

    Chapter1:About Composition
    -Briot begins the chapter (and the book) saying that his approach to photography is treating it like art. This is a book for artists, or those who want to make their photography art.
    -Photographs should produce emotion.
    -The goal of a photographer should be to convey the emotion that they are feeling when they photograph a subject.
    -A “factual” photograph (one used to record information, portraits, etc…) should not reflect the emotion of the photographer. His/her presence must not be felt. (This may or may not be true when photographing people. I feel like he is a little extreme in this. I feel that the photographer can express emotion while taking portraits, I feel that instead of the photographer expressing her emotion, she should do her best to express the emotion of the people she is photographing.)
    -He recommends keeping a journal of emotions while photographing a certain scene.
    -Less is more, eliminate all elements that do not contribute to making the photograph stronger.
    -“No matter how advanced and automatized the equipment and the software we use, there is no substitute for individual input and expression.”

    Chapter 2: Learning to See Like a Camera
    -Briot begins by telling stories of art shows and people believing that his photography is good because of the following (what I will call) myths.
    -Myth 1: Good Cameras=good photographs.
    -Myth 2: Filters: a filter that can create beautiful photographs at will, simply does not exist
    -Myth 3: Photoshop Modification: according to the “general public” photoshop exists solely to manipulate a photograph. Briot argues that a great photograph comes out of the camera great. There is no need to change it. He does suggest that some modifications need to be done in order to make the printed photograph look the same as the one from the camera, and that other small modifications can be made (cropping, color saturation, etc…)
    -“A photograph is only as good as the print one makes from it.” (I know this from experience! If you have a good photo on the computer and send it to walmart or somewhere else to print it, chances are they will change it, and make it look “better.” For example, I have a beautiful picture of my daughter helping to decorate the Christmas tree. The light was perfect. Just how I wanted it. My mom wanted a copy and I had one printed out at the local walmart. They messed it up! I think they had good intentions (they tried to lighted it), but I learned my lesson.)
    -Become or take your photograph to a Master Printer.
    -“To say that the quality of the art is caused solely by the quality of the instrument is to miss the point altogether about the importance of the artist…art is made by artists and not by tools”

    I am going to stop here today. My daughter woke up from her nap, and the dishes need done…Tomorrow I will finish up the catching up. 🙂