Eileen Rafferty examines major trends happening in the medium today and discuss the key innovators working with these techniques as well as past photographers and artists who used these techniques in the past.
Did you get a new camera for Christmas? Are you hoping that this new shiny piece of technological wonder will bring you better pictures in the future?
Chances are a new camera can be a step in the right direction for taking better pictures but only if you develop your craft. Here are some tips for getting better photographs from that new camera.
Read the manual
Yeah, I know. You’re not the type who needs to read manuals. You figured out the lawnmower no problem. But the modern digital single lens reflect camera (DSLR) is one complicated piece of technology. Within that thick, poorly translated tome of information is a whole lot of usesless features you will want to ignore and a whole lot of important settings information that you will want to read, reread and practice with and then refer back to every once in a while.
Pay particular attention to the section that describe quality settings – RAW vs. JPEG and size/quality of files. Also how to set White Balence, ISO, Exposure compensation and how to find Aperture Priority mode.
Unfortunately today’s cameras are crammed with all sorts of gee whiz features that look great on the box or coming out of a sales persons mouth — things like special in camera filters and special setting for things like “beach, snow, vacation, pets” etc but if you know the basics of photography you don’t need all of that crap, you can just use Exposure compensation.
I look at my old film camera – the Olympus OM-G and it had everything a photographer needed and nothing else. Aperture exposure mode, manual mode, bulb mode and that’s it. Plus a ASA/ISO dial and an exposure compensation adjustment. White balance was cooked into the film.
Know your equipment
So get out the manual. Learn what every dial, button and menu on your camera does and how to use it. Get your settings the way you want them and shoot a lot of photos, evaluate the results, come back to the manual, make adjustments and keep on learning your equipment until you don’t have to even think about your equipment and you can concentrate totally on the subject you are trying to capture.
I’ve had my Canon 6D and I’m still discovering new things on this camera but when I come across a scene I want to capture, I know the camera well enough and have my settings set up in custom menus that nine times out of ten I manage to capture what I’m trying to capture.
Know Everything About Exposure
Learn the three sides of the exposure triangle – ISO, Shutterspeed and Aperature and know how to change them on your new camera.
Ahhh sharpness. If you read a lot of product reviews and fan blogs, a beginning photographer can be lead to believe that sharpness is the holy grail of photography.
Not subject matter, not capturing beautiful light, beautiful composition or storytelling – no sharpness is perfection. Of course this is all nonsense as the subject is always going to be more important than sharpness.
“Sharpness is a bourgeois concept”
– Henri Cartier Bresson
In the early days of fine are photography, soft images were all the rage. The “pictorial” style purposely used soft lenses to a acheive a more painterly like result. In these early days photographers wanted to achieve the look of painting. Photography hadn’t existed long enough to support itself as a new medium among the art buying public so photographers tried to mimic painting.
Today all modern lenses are capable of achieving a focal point at the point of focus. No matter what the aperture opening or depth of field, there will be a point at which the lens is sharply focused.
But as fine art photographer Vincent Versace points out, its not the ability of the lens to focus that is important, it is how the lens handles the out of focus areas that make the difference, because after all, 99% of your image is typically out of focus.
“For me, the prettiest aspect of an image is not so much in the areas of focus, but in where the lens ramps from in-focus to blur,” remarks Versace. “The ineffable quality of a lens is bokeh. Neutral bokeh is something that’s frequently achieved, but to go the step beyond to a beautiful bokeh—that is rare and precious. ”
Vincent talks about this in his talk entitled “The Lens is the Brush, The Camera is the Canvas, the File is the Sheet Music and the Print is the Symphony” –
So if sharpness isn’t the most important thing in photography why are there zillions of magazine pages and countless blog posts dedicated to reviewing, testing and rating cameras and camera lens for sharpness?
Because its easier to talk about photography in terms of test results, numbers, features, buttons and products than it is to talk about the art of photography – content, concept, composition, mood, feelings etc.
Art is subjective and can’t be tested or compared in a product shoot out. Sharpness can be measured by nerds in a lab, art is a lot more difficult to measure.
People don’t like to talk about things they can’t measure. Opinions come into play when you don’t have concrete facts and measurements. And when you offer an opinion, you need to justify it and be ready to defend it. Its a braver stance to take when you put your opinion out there then when you present lab tests.
That’s why you don’t see a lot of subjective option but a lot of lab results. But of course ultimately its not the quality of a lens or the equipment but what the photographer does with the equipment.
“Of course it’s all luck.”
– Henri Cartier-Bresson
Photography Luck – When the famous photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, famous for shooting in The Decisive Moment says “of course it’s all luck” he is saying it tongue in cheek of course. Capturing amazing photographs of amazing light, amazing events, incredible moments – requires not only luck but having a camera with you and having the knowledge of your equipment to compose and expose the photograph at the right moment.
Luck will do you no good if you left your camera buried in a closet back at home or don’t have the practice of bringing a camera up to your eye when these amazing moments present themselves. Luck won’t help you if you are fumbling with controls as the moment comes and goes.
Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908–2004) is one of the most original, accomplished, influential, and beloved figures in the history of photography. His inventive work of the early 1930s helped define the creative potential of modern photography, and his uncanny ability to capture life on the run made his work synonymous with “the decisive moment”—the title of his first major book. – MOMA
“You just have to live and life will give you pictures.”– Henri Cartier Bresson
Photography is an active pursuit. Not only do you have to understand and practice with your equipment so that you’ll be ready for when life throws you some great moments, you also have to increase your chances of being in the right place at the right time to create more of these moments.
You can increase your chances of luck by being prepared, having your camera with you all the time, traveling to “target rich” places, timing the light and learning to see images.
Even if you don’t have your camera with you, you can practice visualizing images, scouting out locations to return to when the light or season is more favorable. Timing can be a matter of putting yourself in a location at the right season and the right time of day. Not when you just happen to be somewhere but when you plan to be some where because you know in advance when the light will be the best.
Timing can also be anticipating a moment and dedicating enough time to capture the image you want to capture, not just shoot and leave to make a dinner date. You might just have to wait for that moment when the clouds part just right and send an amazing defused light over your subject.
Timing can be dragging yourself out of bed before coffee and showering. Or it can be staying out later long after the mosquito have driven everyone else off the beach or lake.
Traveling to new places can reawaken your senses and fine tune your seeing skills. Although the travel need not be to exotic places, a trip to the town next door or an area of town you’ve never been too might be enough of new area to find new compositions and ideas, all the while constantly training your photographer’s eye to see.
“Some days you just get lucky… Other days you wait patiently for luck to happen”
― Destin Sparks
I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot of pressure every year around the fall foliage season. Call it performance anxiety or just simple pressure or something. Every year Mother Nature puts on this amazing show that lasts only a few weeks and usually around the same time it deals out some rather nasty weather from hurriacanes, to tropical storms to snowstorms. Plus this time of year always seems like the crush time when you have kids in school.
Carefree summer is over, time to get back on schedule plus do all those chores you meant to do all summer but it was too hot. Cut, chop and stack firewood, get your flu shot, get some new tires, pull up the garden, batten down the hatches — and sneak out around the region to capture amazing fall foliage shots between rain, wind, drizzle, and whatever comes along.
Then you fire up the old social media and see all kinds of great images being captured by photographers around the region. Where is the peak? Is it past prime? Where did I want to return? Where did I say I wanted to come back when the foliage season begins? What do you mean we have dinner plans during golden hour? Which moon is it and how many more years before its this great again?
And so on and so on. It can get nerve racking especially since there are so many places in New England to see great fall foliage. So many places I’ve already been and so many places yet to explore. In some ways the winter season can be such a relief after the busy summer and fall months.
So far I did manage to get out and take some great fall foliage shots in Vermont and New Hampshire. Even made it down to Cape Cod, although it was a few weeks early.
In a lifetime of photography, you really only need a couple of killer images in a season. I got really lucky this week with a shot of two Adirondack chairs in a park in Norwich, Vermont just over the bridge from Hanover and Dartmouth college. The composition was all mine but the amazing lighting came from someone above smiling down on me. It was a rather blustery day with warm tropical breezes (at least for late November in the Upper Valley) and suddenly the stormy sky opened up a bit and gave me some amazing studio like lighting around my subject.
I kind of like the overcast days we get so often in New England. Its like a giant softbox. As long as you don’t include the sky in the shot, this nice even light can be great. But this particular light was something altogether different because the light was on the foreground but darker in the background. It created a more 3D effect then I would have gotten normally.
The Challenge of Fall Foliage Photography
I see the challenge of photographing fall foliage is in finding a great subject, composing it to show off the colors of the fall AND timing everything with the peaking foliage and the light of the day.
We see the beautiful trees exploding with color filling our entire visual range. The hardest thing is selecting what to include in the photograph in a compelling composition. Often the trees themselves are kind of boring as the main focus, often they are better as supporting actors.
The quick snapshot impulse is to aim at a colorful tree, center it in the frame, snap – and post on social media. Of course as we know these shots typically don’t produce a lasting memory. For something that elevates the image to art, we need a compelling subject to pull us into the image. A fence, a road leading down a path of colorful trees, an old tractor, people, a dog, covered bridge, — something interesting with the colorful foliage engulfing the view.
The crazy cute Westie is one of the most popular small terriers among pet owners. Standing 10 to 11 inches at the shoulder, with dark piercing eyes, compact body, and an adorable carrot-shaped tail wagging with delight, the Westie’s looks are irresistible. Beneath the plush-toy exterior, though, beats the heart of true working terrier. Bred to hunt rats and other furry critters, Westies are surprisingly strong, brave and tough. Look out chipmunks and squirrels!
The West Highland White Terrier, commonly known as the Westie or Westy, is a Scottish breed of dog with a distinctive white coat. The modern breed is descended from a number of breeding programs of white terriers in Scotland prior to the 20th century.
West Highland White Terrier Dogs 101 Segment
The Westie is grouped with and probably closely related to the other terriers of Scotland, including the Cairn, the Dandie Dinmont, the Scottish and the Skye. It was bred to be a working terrier, going to ground to combat rats, rabbit, badger and fox. Legend has it that Colonel Malcolm was hunting with his small brown terriers and accidentally shot his favorite, mistaking it for a fox. Malcolm apparently set about developing a small white dog that could perform all the functions of a working terrier but would never be accidentally mistaken for prey. He selected the lightest puppies from litters of Cairn Terriers and bred them without crossing with any traditionally tan dogs. Eventually, he created pure white terriers that bred true to type, temperament, function and color.
The white coat of the Westie or West Highland White Terrier should be hard to the touch, never soft and fluffy. The westie breed has a two layer coats. A soft under layer for warmth and a wirely outer coat for shedding dirt.
The breed was listed officially as the West Highland White Terrier in 1907 at the Crufts dog show in England. The name was chosen for the rugged character of the dogs and the area of their development. The West Highland White Terrier Club of America was founded in 1909. It is a member club of the American Kennel Club. The Club’s annual meetings and specialty shows are held in conjunction with the Montgomery County Kennel Club Show at Ambler, Pennsylvania in October. In addition, the club holds a national Roving Specialty Show each year with one of the regional clubs acting as host.
Most Westies will get dirty between baths no matter how often they are bathed. It is a Westie duty to see just how dirty it is possible to get before Mom or Dad catches them. If you are lucky, it is just plain mud or dirt and not something smelly!!
BATHING PRODUCTS AND PROCEDURES:
DON’T use human shampoos unless “prescribed” by your vet. (Occasionally the vet may tell you to use a medicated human product for treatment of a medical condition. Of course, in this case, do as your vet tells you to do. ) Human products have a PH level set for human needs. A dog’s PH level requirement is quite different. Always use a product made specifically for dogs unless your vet specifically tells you to do otherwise.
Read the instructions on the shampoo. Many shampoos require that you leave them on the dog for 5-10 minutes before rinsing. This gives them time to work. If you do not follow the instructions, the product will not do its job.
Use a rinse that will re-moisturize the skin. Your vet can give advice on this subject but a very commonly used rinse is called HUMILAC. This product is a non-greasy skin conditioner that gets right through the hair and down to the skin without leaving any residue on the hair. It is like putting body lotion on your legs after you have bathed. It helps keep the skin from drying out even after more frequent baths. It can be sprayed on the dog and rubbed in. Possibly a more effective way to use it is to mix it with water and pour it over the dog in the final rinse. Instructions are on the bottle.
If your dog has dry, flaky skin (doggie dandruff) and you do not bath him frequently, use the HUMILAC as a spray between baths. If the dog is bathed more often, use it as a rinse (mixed with water) and follow up by using it as a spray between baths. NOTE: If the flaky skin continues, ask your vet to run a full Thyroid test. Low or low-normal thyroid can be a cause of skin problems and is easily corrected with medication.
Put a rubber mat on the floor of the tub or sink. This will give your dog a more secure footing.
Most important of all, when you shampoo your dog, you must do a thorough rinsing. Rinse your dog, rinse your dog again and rinse a third time. When you are SURE you have every bit of shampoo removed, rinse once more!! The residue left from the shampoo is often the CAUSE of itching.
Time it well. If you’re looking for action shots, have your photo shoot before the daily three-mile run. If you want a serene portrait, make it after.
Let your dog get used to the camera. The click and flash of a camera can rattle dogs at first, says Rogers. Let your dog give the camera a good sniff, then start casually shooting the surroundings (if you’ve got a film camera, you can do this before you load the film). Once your dog’s gotten used to the camera and starts doing his own thing, begin taking pictures.
The idea is to keep things natural and relaxed. What not to do: Grab a ton of treats, abruptly shove the camera in your dog’s face, and repeat, “Mommy’s gonna take your picture!” at high pitch.
Take lots of pictures. This is the first rule of photography, no matter what the subject. The more you take, the better your chances of getting a few amazing shots. “Always bring an extra battery,” warns Rogers.
Turn off the flash. Most amateur photographers do best with warm, natural sunlight. To avoid washed-out pictures, shoot in the mornings or evenings, on slightly overcast days, or in the shade on a bright day.
For indoor shots, you’ll probably need a flash. You’ll get a more natural-looking shot if you use an off-camera flash and swivel it upward so the light’s bouncing off the ceiling.
Get down on your dog’s level. “If you stand over your dog and look down, every shot you take is going to look like everyone else’s,” says Rogers.
Pay attention to background. Simple backgrounds, like a white sandy beach or green trees, make your dog stand out. If you’ve got a point-and-shoot camera, have your dog at least a dozen feet in front of the background so he’ll be more in focus than whatever’s behind him, and of course, watch for the tree branches growing out of his head. Pay attention to color, too: No black backgrounds for black dogs, brown backgrounds for brown dogs, and so on.
Enlist help. A friend with a squeaky toy will come in handy if you want a head-on shot or a regal profile. However, keep your dog’s personality in mind with this tip. “Some dogs get amped up really fast when their toys are around, so it can have the opposite effect of what you intended,” says Rogers.
Get creative and playful. Lots of full-body shots taken from ten feet away can get mighty dull. Get up close so your dog fills the entire frame. Get even closer so you get the full effect of that long, wet nose. Photograph your dog head on, in profile, at 45-degree angles. And don’t get hung up on perfection; sometimes that shot with your dog’s tail out of the frame is the one you’ll have hanging on your wall for years. “With pet photography, serendipity is the name of the game,” says Rogers. “The best shots are often the spontaneous ones.”
Tips for Better Dog Photographs Featuring Tiki the Westie
“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” – Vince Lombardi
I like this quote from Vince Lombardi. Its pertains to a lot more than football, it can be applied to the current election, to life in general and certainly to photography.
Too many photographers have the wrong idea about perfection in their work. Perfection is not about standing in front of a boring subject and getting a perfect focus and perfect exposure.
Perfection is art is bring forth your personal vision. Capturing the essence of what you wanted to communicate to your audience. Like in the birding world, its not about having the longest life list of birds, its about enjoying the pursuit, being outside and being alive.
Real photography as an artistic medium isn’t collecting a closet full of gear and walking around with the newest, most sought after camera body or showing off the longest lens. Its about collecting images the show how you see the world. Your individual unique perspective on life.
My artwork of the old football with the Vince Lombardi quote is very popular on Fine Art America, probably with football fans. That’s my father’s football from his high school days. He was one of the captains of the Middletown, CT football time back in 1950s.
He was a short guy and not the biggest kids on the team yet he was selected as captain. To me that is the pursue of perfection. Not the perfect specimen of an athlete, not perfection in stats and measurements but perfection where it counts as someone who can be a leader.
In photography the best camera is the camera you have with you. You might not have the biggest sensor, the sharpest lens, the latest camera body, but none of that matters in your pursuit of your idea of perfection. Your goal should not be to own perfect equipment or achieve perfect exposure but to capture that perfect smile on your daughter’s face or to capture the essence of a place that resonates with everyone who has been there.
Now go out and capture some excellence!
“A photographer’s work is given shape and style by his personal vision. It is not simply technique, but the way he looks at life and the world around him.” – Pete Turner
If your looking for a good video blog on fine art photography, check out Ted Forbes’s video series “The Art of Photography”
The Art of Photography is an online video series I’ve been producing since 2008. I make daily videos on all aspects of photography including history, process, technique and equipment. – Ted Forbes
What I like about this series is that its not equipment focused. So many camera magazines, online videos and websites concentrate on equipment reviews and arguments over which lens is the sharpest or which brand is the best. They don’t talk about the art of photography at all.
Why? Because talking about art and the real essence of artistry is hard. Talking about technical aspects of a piece of technology is easy. Its just numbers and measurements and its all about buying equipment and keeping the sponsors and advertisers happy.
Ted talks about fine art, history, the art world, photographers and what it means to create a body of work rather then a collection of lucky shots. He talks about approaching photography with purpose rather then just showing off the latest equipment purchase.
Photography is an artistic medium used to express the vision of the artist behind the camera. The brands, product reviews, lens tests, opinions, newest gadget, software, filters etc don’t mean squat to the vision of the photographer other then they are tools in the tool box used to bring about the end result.
Wikipedia – Fine art photography is photography created in accordance with the vision of the artist as photographer. Fine art photography stands in contrast to representational photography, such as photojournalism, which provides a documentary visual account of specific subjects and events, literally re-presenting objective reality rather than the subjective intent of the photographer; and commercial photography, the primary focus of which is to advertise products or services.
“Eventually I discovered for myself the utterly simple prescription for creativity: be intensely yourself. Don’t try to be outstanding; don’t try to be a success; don’t try to do pictures for others to look at—just please yourself.”– Ralph Steiner
Driving around Prince Edward Island after dinner with a car full of teenagers, I spotted this row of beautiful old antique tractors lit with incredible light from the setting sun. Now in these situations I have to make a calculation in my head within seconds. First is there anyone behind me before I slam on the brakes, second is there any where to pull over and third am I ready for the complaints from the passengers who really just want to get to our destination.
Believe me there are so many times I’m happy to ignore the protests! In photography, the photographer does rely on a lot of serendipitous moments but these moments favor the prepared. Its all about always looking for photograph opportunities and then having the skills to be able to pull the image off.
Make Your Own Luck
1. Learning to see images
2. Always having a camera on hand
3. Practicing constantly
4. Giving yourself opportunities
5. Returning to locations
6. Taking advantage of good light
7. Working quickly and with purpose
8. Making not taking photographs
9. Putting yourself in front of interesting subjects.
10. Walking for driving down that unknown street.
The lighthouse photograph above came about over years of revisiting the same area. Conditions were “lucky” on this occasion of going back to the same area and exploring it thoroughly to capture the best light, the best clouds, the best angle etc. More hard work than luck. The lucky part is when the sun and clouds cooperated.
Luck and Photography
It has been said that photography is the art form where luck matters most. True enough. And anyone can get that one lucky shot in their life time. But when you look over the career of a great photographer and start seeing one “lucky” shot after another, you start to realize there has to be a bit of planning behind all of those lucky shots.
This “storm chaser” shot below was very lucky. Probably lucky I didn’t get killed. But I didn’t go chasing a wall cloud, the storm came to us. I took this shot from the porch of a little cottage we rented on Prince Edward Island. Lucky, although I was prepared with my tripod and camera equipment.
MOST PEOPLE ARE NOT skilled photographers, but if you’ve taken enough pictures in your life, you’ve surely turned up some good ones — a snapshot or two that made you think, “Maybe I have a knack for this.” – Boston Globe
Lucky Shots Take Time
People just starting out in photography look at great photos and have a desire to create the same amazing photograph right away. The problem is looking at a small sample of a photographers lifetime of work. Keep in mind that you are looking at the best of a photographer’s portfolio over a long period of time. Luck will present itself within a long time frame. Play blackjack, roulette, the lottery or slot machines long enough and you will win at some point.
Same with photography. Invest the time and energy to create your own luck and it will happen.
Sometimes luck comes in the form of a vintage car parked in the exact right spot at the exact time you happen to be there with your camera.