The Importance of Perspective


Seagull at the Golden Gate Bridge

One of my favorite topics in my Digital Photography Basics class is the importance of perspective. Perspective includes what lens you choose and how you crop the image, but the most important factor is where you stand. The only way to change the perspective is to move the camera.

I use this image as an example of moving. The animation below shows a sequence of 25 frames as I moved closer to the seagull. I had a 14mm extreme wide angle lens on a full frame camera. so I had to get really close. My goal was to get close to the bird and position him with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.

You’ll notice about 1/2 way through the sequence I was almost there when the he flew down to the next pylon so I had to start again. I ended up less than 2 feet from the bird to finally get the shot.

Getting close to the subject

My class at ICC’s Pekin Campus starts April 1 and meets for 6 weeks.

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Making Photo Art from Reflections

Cypress knees and reflections at Congaree National Park

It’s fun to find shapes and colors reflecting in water when the result is both literal and abstract. In this image the central objects are cypress knees poking above the shallow water. The streaks of light and shadow combine with the reflections of trees and blue sky to create a striking combination of shapes and color. It’s a simple image but it can take some study to figure out all of the parts.

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Avoiding “Just another Sunset”

Fine art photo of a winter sunset

When I teach photography basics I spend a fair amount of time talking about sunset and sunrise photos. I talk about dealing with the technical challenges, but my main message is to avoid photos that are just about the sunset. Of course there’s nothing wrong with a photo of a great sunset – I take them all the time. But, you’ll have a much more interesting image if you can find a main subject other than the sky.  Think of sunset as a time of day with really interesting light and try to avoid photos where it is the only subject.

Incidentally, my next class will be at the ICC Pekin Campus starting April 1, 2015. You can find details here on the ICC website.

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Finding you Favorite Photographs

Riding the Rails, Rock Island State Park, Tennessee

How do you decide if you really like one of your own images?  I’ve found that my first response to an image is not very reliable in the long run. Some, of course, are instant favorites and remain a favorite in the future. But frequently I’ll find that my initial infatuation with an image quickly fades.

I also find that when I revisit my images at a later date, I find favorites that I may have passed by at first. The image above is a good example. When I first reviewed that day’s take I thought it was OK, but it didn’t really sing for me. It was only later when I returned to the image later and spent some time with it that I began to really enjoy the color and symmetry it offers.

The photo, by the way, is from the Rock Island State Park in Tennessee. It’s a little off the beaten path and takes a bit of back road navigation to find, but it’s well worth the trip.

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Is Photography Art?


Antelope Canyon Winter Colors - is photography art?

I describe myself as a “fine art photographer.” A few years ago I would have felt awkward and pretentious using that description, but success selling my work in art galleries has helped me feel more comfortable. However, there are still those who contend that photography is not art, and certainly not “fine art.” (See this recent article on “The Online Photographer” blog.)

So, what is art? The Wikipedia definition reads, “Fine art refers to a skill used to express the artist’s creativity, or to engage the audience’s aesthetic sensibilities, or to draw the audience towards consideration of more refined or finer work of art.”

For me, I simply like to think of art as the confluence of craft and vision. The best art is created from an abundance of both. Likewise, a piece will fall short if either component is lacking.

Consider Michelangelo’s “David.” It’s a widely considered to be a masterpiece, and exhibits Michelangelo’s mastery of his craft (carving), but much of the appeal also comes from the pose and expression (vision).

When you admire a painting, you admire the craft and precision of the brush strokes, but you also look at the scene. If the scene doesn’t appeal to you, then the craft of the painting doesn’t mean much, at least not to you. A perfectly forged copy of a masterpiece is nearly worthless; it exhibits great craft, but no original vision.

Likewise, photography is a combination of craft and vision. Ansel Adams once said, “There’s nothing worse than a sharp photograph of a fuzzy concept.”  In some ways, the advent of digital photography has made the craft easier, and in some ways it’s harder. Today’s digital photographers need to also be digital technicians where in the film days most relied on specialized custom processing labs to develop and print their images.

I think one reason many people don’t appreciate the art of photography is that they’ve never learned the difference between a snapshot and an expertly crafted  fine art photograph. After all, it looks easy if you don’t really know how it’s done. We’ve all tried our hands at drawing and painting. Some of you found you had a real talent for it.  The rest of us learned we don’t have that talent, but we have a better understanding of the level of craft it takes to create a painting.

Vision is the other differentiating element. When you feel moved or inspired by a photograph, remember that image wouldn’t exist but for the vision of the photographer. The photographer made decisions about where to place the camera and knew what camera settings were important. They also may have had a hand in creating the scene through posing and lighting. And they certainly choose the moment in time to snap the shutter.

After the image was captured, the photographer continues to apply their vision during post-processing. Should the image be cropped? What about the brightness and colors? Should some of the colors be modified to be more harmonious or give the scene a different feel?  What about black and white instead of color? Again, it’s the photographer’s vision that shapes the final rendering of the scene.

Of course, scarcity is another parameter that adds value to artwork. Paintings and sculptures exist as copies of one. Music, on the other hand, is typically recorded, and the more copies sold the better. With the internet, many things are readily available - and hardly scarce. Anyone with access to the internet can see the photo at the top of this post, but a large, finely prepared archival print with my signature is somewhat rare. (Actually, more rare than I’d like it to be.)

My fine art photography may appeal to you, or it may not. That’s OK, we all have different tastes. Either way, I hope we all learn to appreciate all forms and styles of art and creativity, even those forms that aren’t necessarily our favorites.


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