I try to encourage two things to happen when making a portrait. People touching, and acceptance.
To support closeness, I say 'reach and touch someone you love.' Playing music helps, because it is natural for people to touch, forget themselves, and even dance together when listening to music they love.
Relaxed portraits flow from our being. As photographers, when we get to know and enjoy the people we photograph, it helps to have acceptance flowing both ways. Without acceptance, the poses look stiff, annoyed, or worse. With acceptance, the photograph is the relationship. Compelling portraits are other-centric, they are about the subject. They are soulfies not selfies.
This summer, in a town square, I saw a street performer named Will the "talking mime" who squeezed his entire body through the open, unstrung head of a tennis racket. Will is the only talking mime in the world; the contradition made me think of other contradictions, and, since I make photographs, other paradoxical ideas in photography.
My goal here is to nudge you to look for things that are the opposite of what you expect. Why? Because a photograph is never a representation of an object, it is a representation of an idea. Expanding our idea space is a wonderful thing, despite what Henri Cartier Bresson thinks:
And no thinking. Ideas are very dangerous. You must think all the time, but when you photograph you are not trying to prove a point or demonstrate something. ~ Henri Cartier-Bresson
Ever since that great day in 1929 when the first permanent photograph came to be, paradox has been at the heart of photography, and many photographers have created images based on paradoxical ideas. This is somewhat abstract, so let's look at four statements of contradiction and paradox in photography.
1. A photograph that is simultaneously sharp and blurred.
2. A photograph shows a moment in time that no longer exists, and because it captures a moment, it also is about the death of that moment (Barthes).
3. "An image possesses none of the properties of the object represented" ~ Unberto Eco
4. "The paradox of photography is that it belongs to nature and culture at one and the same time." ~ Daniel Rubenstein
Paradoxes may have seemed absurd at the time. Take a photo in total darkness? Well, that was a paradox in the past. No longer.
Two opposing ideas do not have to be true at the same time. An ideas in photograph evolve, they balance out what at first seemed like irreconcilable contractions.
Consider two examples. First, the idea of a small portable camera for quality images failed when it first came out, but after time passed, it became a mantra. Second, although each scene occurs only once in a specific, unique place and time, we photographers can reproduce our scenes ad infinitum.
We can again thank French philosopher Roland Barthes for that one.
We deny contradiction when we should actively seek it out instead. It's cozy to stay with what is familiar. We dine on the familiar and read what we already know; this is what makes Google and our online world so comfy. Resist this. Making images, search out the new, the unfamiliar and the contradictory. Try to live outside your own bubble.
No matter how much you believe something to be true, keep asking questions in your photography. Is the opposite also valid? If I pretend the opposite it also true, what happens ? There are many many ways to see, photograph, and think about the real, unreal and surreal.
As creators, we will generate a lot more energy. We spend so much energy striving for consistency, but when we hold the reality of photography's paradox in out thoughts, the images become much more powerful. Your magnificent unique brain has the immense capacity to engage in two opposing views simultaneously. How you balance the two opposing views evolves from your experiences, beliefs and opinions.
LINKS: 1. Art of Creative Photography
EXPLORE, DON'T JUDGE HDR
The key to exploring HDR is to put aside the debates about it, and to approach learning high dynamic range techniques with an open, curious mind. Read tutorials. Watch You-Tube videos. Explore HDR on your own. After installing the software and taking a bracketed series of shots, you may find your photography enlivened by learning to process with HDR software.
HDR HAS A HISTORY
Those of us who adopted HDR in its early days did so with religious zealotry. We were so passionate about its novelty that we believed HDR techniques made all subjects more interesting. Wrong.
Subject matter and narrative have to come first. HDR is simply a technique that contributes to meaningful images only when they mean something. Photographers make images because they have to say something, but great photographers make images with something to say.
When HDR was introduced, viewers were initially shocked because biases got in the way. How photography had been seen influenced how HDR was now seen. For instance, it seemed reasonable to view an HDR photo relative to how we'd seen landscapes printed from film. Seeing nature images processed with HDR, critics even slandered HDR, saying it should be beautifully true to nature.
This over-insistence on historical notions of beauty echoed the mindset of mid 19th-century viewers who were trained to see nature photographs with the same vision they had been evaluating romantic art paintings for decades prior to photography's invention. HDR has a history. It did not spring full blown without a context. It is a post modern form of photography that is possible only with software.
Seeing the context of HDR images requires flexibility. They are not reality and like all photographs, are not intended to be. There are made with a wide spectrum of techniques. Within this relativity, I argue that subject matter is the primary aspect of photograph that applies to HDR. The subject itself is the story.
As viewers of HDR, we tend to lose the subject if we are immersed in the technique. We criticize poor tone mapping technique. As we become skilled in judging HDR images, I believe flexibility is needed. It helps to suspend judgment such as good vs. bad for awhile and just go photograph.
Subject matter outlasts style. We do not care, 150 years after Edward Muybridge stopped the motion of a horse, that much of his work was carefully edited. We recall and relate only that he captured all four horses feet off the ground in the same instant. Years after it was taken, we may remember the controversial subject matter of a documentary image and forget how it was made. Just as the Daguerreotype was celebrated in the 19th century, so too the initial gift of HDR was its high level of subject detail. HDR has the potential to portray subjects with clarity.
To survive as a worthwhile contribution to photography in the flood of millions of uploaded HDR images, an interesting HDR photograph must have composition, clarity, and symbolic meaning. Today, we know that some photographs are more interesting than others. With the passing of decades, however, its subject matter makes an image important.
Seeing HDR photography, we should avoid getting stuck in notions of good vs. bad. Every HDR image is a subjective slice, from a chosen viewing angle. The essence of seeing HDR photography does not lie in making judgments of good taste vs. bad taste. Human vision is a spectrum: there are realistic HDR photographers who wish to accurately revive the scene before them. There are also impressionists who want to catch the impression that the scene left upon them. If you are a realist, you may say impressionist HDR is less interesting to you, but this opinion does not make all impressionist HDR bad art. Judging all of it as bad is an error. And yet, this is exactly how critics have judged tone mapping, a way of combining bracketed exposures to make a high dynamic range image.
There are two main processes used by HDR software programs: tone mapping and exposure blending. Tone mapping is a way to expand or compress the tones beyond the range of a single exposure. The goal is to show an enhanced range of tones for monitor display. Exposure blending, another technique, uses layers ( in Photomatix, Photoshop® or other software), to select the best parts of many registered frames and put them together. Countless references and tutorials on YouTube and online show how to do tone mapping and exposure blending.
Tone mapping is like health care: a politicized debate has swamped the important issues. While tone mapping is merely an equation in an HDR software programs that tries to keep details while reducing contrast, it can produce halos and a saturated, contrasty look to photographs. However, tone mapping can be done smoothly so its presence in the final image is natural.
Critics often misunderstand images made with the extended dynamic range process, and attack the photographer directly, getting away from the photograph. For instance, tone mapping efforts have been slandered, and tone mapping has been heavily criticized as unnatural. I attempt, later on, to answer the critics by outlining characteristics of authentic HDR photographers.
Bashing the appearance of HDR pictures, repeated in countless web discussions, is now a tired cliche. I like to think of some tone mapping, perhaps, as the heavy metal of the HDR music world. It has its place at one end of the spectrum of HDR techniques. It’s not a matter of good taste vs. bad taste, it’s a spectrum of expression by different photographers who have unique visions. Good HDR photos convey something of the subject matter, the character of the photographer, beyond the specific HDR process used.
Instead of seeing the content of the entire play, HDR critics have picked apart the actors and how they appear under stage lighting. Obsessed by flaws they see when beginners’ use tone mapping, like Shakespeare’s MacDuff the critics exclaim: “Oh horror! horror! horror! Tongue, nor heart, Cannot conceive nor name thee!” They make the error of blaming the photographer, and ignoring the context and content of the image.
Critics also charge that pictures made with HDR are “over-cooked.” This description is also a tired cliché. Because it looked different on the surface, tone-mapped HDR did not meet critics expectations. While intelligent criticism comes from the love of tradition, it also mistakenly attacks photographers if the critic expects a photo to be an accurate document. Often, criticism of nature scenes done with tone mapping arose from seeing photos as not natural, and expecting them to be so. Yet, nature photographers have never accurately shown a landscape. They have always used photography to interpret nature.
The online debate that HDR, and tone mapping in particular, haves engendered recycle a controversy that swept photography in the 1890’s.
AN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: IMPRESSIONISM
Today’s debate over how HDR photographs look, and should look, relives a similar photography controversy from the 1880’s in Europe and America. At that time, mainstream photography theory was concerned with the Realist school and the Impressionist school. The English photographer Dr. Peter Henry Emerson (1856-1936) suggested photography should return to nature, echoing the reaction of painters 30 years earlier against academic painting.
Emerson also proposed a theory of vision in his attack on artificial picture making (Naturalistic Photography, 1889. Arguing that photography should imitate the eye, he knew the eye saw sharpness only at the center of the visual field, while the periphery of vision appeared softer and slightly blurred compared with the center. Emerson made platinum prints that had a wide and beautiful tonal range, and he printed these images so that only their center was sharp, so they were slightly out of focus towards the edges. He was seeking what he considered to be a naturalistic expression or the way we commonly see the world. Emerson's co-photographers, taking a page from French Impressionists, returned to an old idea: a soft photo was more beautiful than a sharp one.
Before Peter Henry Emerson came on the scene, edge-to-edge sharpness was a photographer’s main concern. Although criticized for being in a “fuzzy school,” Emerson and his promotion of photography as an independent Pictorial art became the foundation for the Photo-Secessionist school of international photographers including Alfred Stieglitz and many others. This controversy, over what is a natural photograph, is recycled and repeated by our current debate, in 2010, about the relationship of HDR photography to reality.
Looking at a landscape picture, we like to think that if we went to the same place and looked at the identical scene, then we would see exactly what we saw previously in a photograph of that place. We are wrong. Due to the surprise when HDR initially did not meet our expectations that it must be factual and accurate, we simply were overtaken by photographic amnesia, and forgot the lessons from photography's history.
A picture of a scene will always look different than the scene. People never resemble their portraits. Actors always look different in person than the appear in film. Light changes our perception. In fact, even when lighting conditions change radically, the more we recognize “just another rock, just another tree” in a picture, the more boring that picture is because we are not seeing afresh, but instead our seeing through our preconceptions and memory of the scene. To us as HDR viewers, tone mapping looked so unusual at first, and so unlike what we expected, HDR images that were tone mapped caused only irritation. We shouted: “ that's not real.” Getting stuck in Fact-Fantasy argument is not a reason to throw the HDR instrument section of the photographic orchestra.
Mr. Jim Goldstein of Seattle, an award-winning commercial professional noted for his outstanding nature and landscape work, and the host of the EXIF and Beyond podcast, is a photographer I admire. In 2007, Mr. Goldstein posted a thought-provoking critique of HDR. Goldstein argued then that those photographers who did HDR approached it as a novelty rather than a solution.
This is an excellent point. The intent and experience of the person behind the HDR software controls is a significant part of the outcome. When HDR tools are used as a style, without criteria, we get the sense the image maker is just shooting and not thinking. While, there is nothing wrong with trying new approaches, we expect photographers of character to go beyond the novel to the substantial.
Goldstein went on to argue that HDR on the Flickr.com social photography website was overused and extreme, and that only rarely was HDR used to produce prints close to what the human brain can see. It is a limited cliche to compare how our brain's visual system functions to digital imaging with a camera for many reasons. First, neuroscientists are just beginning to learn complexities of our central nervous system’s visual processing. It's processing is nothing like a camera. Second, before the 1880’s, camera and eye were parallel tools. This changed when Edward Muybridge photographed all four hoofs of a horse in the air, something the eye could never see. After Muybridge’s “instantaneous photography,” photographic vision branched away from our perception. One only has to look at Moholy-Nagy's work in the 30's and his categories of seeing to fully appreciate how much photographic seeing was specific and different than how our eyes see. The camera does not assemble a scene meaningfully, but the brain can.
Mr. Goldstein calls Flickr members “would-be photographers and artists,” but this is yet another tired, old critique. Uploaded one's work to a social website does not prohibit one from exhibiting at MOMA or having a gallery show. Over a hundred years ago, Charles Baudelaire, an exalted character and opium smoker, condemned photography as the refuge of “would-be artists.” Even if Flickr was for amateurs, there is no shame in being an amateur, as amateur photographers have made brilliant advancements in photography. All of us started as amateurs at some point along the path to evolving our vision. What counts is what we are doing now.
However, Goldstein does not lump all those who use HDR into one category, and adds that “there are some photographers producing very naturally-looking HDR images, but regrettably they are the exception.” A thread reply, on the web underneath Goldstein's article, states that “most (HDR) images are completely butchered, and that this is especially true of nature and landscape photographs.” This is because we have a long-standing bias that nature and landscape photographs somehow more in the realm of reality, and, as such, should not be enhanced or manipulated.
With time, HDR software will improve and better nature photography will emerge. Think of the work of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, David Muench, Elliot Porter and John Sexton, all landscape masters who had decades to polish their work, radical as it was when they each began to produce their prints. The point is that patience with HDR is required. Photographers, meanwhile, must not be attacked, but encouraged to explore HDR.
It is time to recognize as myth the idea of photographers producing images close to what the brain can see, or close to “the truth.”
Goldstein criticizes HDR images as not meant for the commercial world. Yet, a large percentage of HDR photos on the web are experimental. They were not meant for commercial use. Of course, there are categories of HDR photography that are commercial; HDR portrait and wedding photography is a fast-growing field. However, on the Flickr website, HDR images tend to be made as part of a learning process and to try new ideas, and not as HDR milestones.
Playing your HDR instrument well requires practice; like any instrument newly added to an experienced ensemble or orchestra, its presence can sweeten or foul the air depending on who is playing. But let’s shift the topic now from the instrument and its techniques, to the image maker.
WHAT QUALITIES CAN HDR PHOTOGRAPHERS STRIVE FOR?
Today photography is shaped by the technology of our digital information age. Today’s magazine covers are retouched, they show digital photographs that were manipulated, and not revealing the enhancement to a portrait. Since a digital image serves commercial, advertising, amateur and many other purposes, the motivation and context of the image is important. A core issue that makes HDR images interesting is the character of the photographer. The image above, “Chevy Above the Levy” was taken purely for amateur purposes. HDR tools were used to make it. Of the photograph, we could ask “ Who took it? ” An even better question is: “what are the qualities of the photographer, and ideally what should they be?”
Borrowing a page from Walker Evans, an F.S.A. photographer of whom entire biographies have been written, I’ve chosen four characteristics for the authentic HDR photographer. HDR photographers can strive to have these qualities.
1. They have absolute fidelity to the medium of photography. They strive to use the HDR camera as the incredible instrument of symbolic actuality that it is. An authentic HDR photographer respects the portrait subject.
2. An authentic HDR photographer uses HDR methods to serve a larger purpose than the technique itself. If they use tone mapping, XDR, exposure fusion, texture fusion, Orton, or bracketed exposures- the processing is done to create a natural result.
3. Composition is everything. The HDR work shows a rightness of framing-what is put in and what is left out. The image space in an HDR photograph is distinctly defined.
4. They employ a general, but unobtrusive technical mastery with their HDR processing.
Walker Evans, working briefly for the Farm Security Administration during the Depression, developed these criteria to define qualities of seasoned photographers, and I’ve applied them to the HDR photographer. In the hands of these photographers, the HDR process can be one of symbolic actuality. HDR photography as its best expresses the humanity, symbolism, or feeling of the scene, portrait, or nature image; its maker can choose HDR techniques as part of the craft, not to shout out that it’s art because high dynamic range methods were used.
NEW THINKING FOR HDR VISION
Emerging HDR photography demands new thinking in addition to digital photograph concepts. Once again, new camera/computer technology changes how we can see. When the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson wielded his newly introduced Leica in the 193o’s, he challenged a more static approach to that had preceded him. Almost for the next decade, the mainstream photographic community of his day responded to his vision by deriding his camera as a toy.
As HDR techniques become second nature, the clarity of the picture idea and the photographers character become more important. Photographs are more than dynamic range, color, depth of focus, and composition. They have an intent. The intent is deeper than finding solutions to the problems of high contrast, washed out highlights, and blocked shadows. Being an authentic HDR photographer is not solely about mastering HDR tools any more than samurai wisdom arises only from having a sharp sword. As a surgeon would employ years of training to use a scalpel, mastering HDR tools can mean knowing when to cut and when to abstain from doing so.
HDR photography can be distinct and subtle while letting photographers fully portray the exquisite detail present in the subject itself. They can strive to show a fully realized image that resonates with viewers. HDR critics should let go of rigid good vs. bad judgments, and real vs. manipulated categories. The character of the photographer is crucial; honesty and disclosure about the image helps make HDR work interesting to viewers and promotes our appreciation of good photography and its ethical practice.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jim Austin Jimages MA is an adventure photographer. He teaches, leads workshops and writes on photography for various publications. He is the author of Photopia: Seeing Far and Wild, Americans on Parade, Pixels on Passage and Emotion in Motion. His work was exhibited at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C. , the Photographer's Gallery in Denver, and the Denver Art Museum. Jim Austin was an assistant professor, teaching digital imaging in the Design Department of Metro State College of Denver. An Adobe Certified Expert, he lives aboard the catamaran Salty Paws.
“The real heroes anyway aren't the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention.” John Green
What happens before you click the shutter? Your answer defines your photography. You pay attention when you Find, Focus and Frame. These three steps are the essence of photographing. Clicking the shutter is the easy part.
Find, focus and frame are three vital steps in The Dance. The photography dance is defined by how and to what we pay attention. Tell me to what you attend, as a photographer, and I'll tell you who you are.
The secret? We must be completely involved. The dance begins in our brain. Before our body can respond, we perceive. Good photographers have great perception, attention and readiness. They find, focus and frame before letting go. It's the "ready", "set" in ready, set, go that makes a photograph!
When we find, focus and frame, we have to shift our attention. Not only do we take out attentional ability for granted, the true nature of what we call attention is unknown. Publications on the nature of attention are abundant. Attention can be spatially-based. It can be object-based. New research in object- based attention suggest that when we represent an object in our vision, paying close attention lets us perceive, process and remember its features much better.
For photographers, attention means we have to care, stare, concentrate and observe. Stephen Shore, one of the 20th century's master photographers, used the following metaphor from fly casting to describe attention:
"When you're casting you have to time your cast so that the fly on the end of your line settles gently onto the water, thus giving the trout the impression that it's biting at the real fly. It's a tricky procedure to master, and the key to it, the way the experts explain it, is constant pressure. It's a feeling of the line on the rod tip that is always there.
Without constant pressure the timing falters, and so does the fly line, leaving the caster with a disconnected, where-did-it-go feeling. Of course, it's very possible to take pictures without constantly paying attention to every decision that needs to be made, but my experience was that when my attention wandered and I started making decisions automatically, there was something missing in the pictures and I was left with that where-did-it-go feeling."
About every twenty seconds, our attention shifts slightly. This happens in our brains, somewhat like breathing, without our awareness. Our attention moves from "self" to "other." Our thalamus and parts of the limbic system are part of a vast network. It can shift our attention away from a focus inside our own thoughts, to thinking about what is outside of us. We can take a self(less)ie."
Photography is less about making pictures where we look to our Self and more about experiencing the world outside of us with full attention. There is a rhythm to this focused attention. For instance, consider an orchestra conductor. The conductor makes music’s meaning clear through body motion. The upbeat is the preparation for any event. The fascinating part of conducting is setting the right tempo. When we watch the conductor setting the tempo and dynamics for an orchestra, we can see he or she is just slightly ahead of the music and begins a leading movement, ahead of the beat.
Night scene near Yale Brewery in Vancouver, BC.
Some say that the camera gives us the power to focus our attention, but the baton does not lead the conductor. This comes from within. Here and now, we can train our attention. Why? Well, in the words of Buddhist sage Thich Nhat Hanh: “The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it."
"Is there anything you do regularly that makes you forget what time it is?"
If so, this timeless feeling is part of a Flow state. Flow is the "in the groove" of a jazz musician, or the "freestyle" of a rapper.
What about photographers? We click, and we also can also learn to Flow. Let's see an example and then 7 things we feel when we're in Flow. We'll wrap up and check out why Flow is addictive.
Flow comes occasionally when I photograph dolphins. Here, a dolphin tosses a mullet. As I make a photo of it, my body recedes and my 'I' disappears. Time is meaningless. My thoughts are my action. Let's take a closer look at what "flow " feels like...
7 PARTS OF FLOW
1. You’re completely involved in what you’re doing: you’re completely focused and concentrated. The camera is moving by itself.
2. There’s a sense you are stepping into a different reality,
standing along side our normal experience.
3. You know just what needs to be done and get an sense, right away, of how well its going.
4. You know you can get the job done because you have
all the skills needed to capture the action.
5. Worries, concerns, and sense of self drifts away.
6. You have lost track of time.
7. Perhaps you feel driven to do it again, because whatever produces flow is now a high, even to the point of becoming addicted.
(these 7 items are based on 8000 interviews of people, globally, research from the work of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi Ph.D.)
A MUSIC METAPHOR ~ A Composer Describes Flow
"You are in an ecstatic state to such a point that you feel as though you almost don’t exist. I have experienced this time and again. My hand seems devoid of myself, and I have nothing to do with what is happening. I just sit there watching it in a state of awe and wonderment. And [the music] just flows out of itself.”
Musicians talk about being 'in the groove' or even being in the "swing." Making music, they play and release, striking a note, then letting it go. Their songs have both notes and rests, so the silence can guide the sound, like the shore guides a river. Music moves through them effortlessly, and seems to need no instrument. Their fingers know how to play without any conscious thought. With no thinking fingers, and no instrument, the music maker and music are one.
Making photographs during our "flow" states, we don't have to exert our self to stay on task. The self is gone. "Flow" takes over automatically, and it even takes less energy to be in in "flow" than it does to be distracted or multi-tasking.
Less gear helps too.
With one camera body and one lens, we can stay in flow, with minimal effort, compared with changing lenses back and forth or some other movement that takes us out of flow with our subjects.
We've all heard master piano players perform. A chorus of classical pianists was asked to play their music several times to induce a flow state. When researchers checked the performers heart rates, blood pressure, and their faces, it was clear that they showed signs of flow.
When each pianist entered the flow state, their heart rate and blood pressure decreased. Their major facial muscles relaxed. This suggests that flow is a state of effortless attention. (de Manzano, Orjan, Theorell, Harmat, Laszlo, Ullen and Fredrik. "The psychophysiology of flow during piano playing". psycARTICLES.)
1. Practice your photography every day. I make a photograph as soon as the sun rises.
2. Keep a direct, braided connection with your subject. This means conceiving the picture, looking at it closely and symbolically, knowing the subject and finally executing it with skill.
3. Try to let go of conscious observation.
4. Learn, let go, react ( See, Feel, Respond).
( Check out Creativity, Fulfillment and Flow, https://youtu.be/fXIeFJCqsPs , a 2004 TED talk by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi Ph.D.
Your BRAIN in FLOW
During flow, certain brain circuits and what we call cortical regions seem to show less activity, as measured by blood flow. These may include portions of the pre-frontal cortex that are thought to be associated with self-critical thoughts (left pre-frontal cortex areas 44, 45, 47). (from Levitin, Daniel J).
Your brain has charges in its synapses. This neuroelectricity has at least 3 phases, alpha, beta and gamma. Gamma spikes are being investigated as associated with flow states. Csikszentmihalyi studied chess masters, connecting them to EEG machines. In the midst of a chess match, the chess masters brainwaves were somewhere in the range of low alpha-high theta. Csikszentmihalyi suggests that this wave activity may correspond to what we call relaxation, REM sleep and meditation. Could it be that the flow state is a restful and active meditation, in terms of the brains electrical patterns?
What we call "flow" is a highly sought-after and addictive state, and the changes in brain chemistry may help explain the reason why.
Flow is a feeling of alertness and strength, in which we have effortless control, are unselfconscious, and sense we are at the peak of our abilities. A balance between challenges and skills is ideal. Flow states are more likely to occur when high challenge and high skill levels meet a balance between arousal and control.
"Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person's capacity to act."
"...mind and hand are one with making photos, leaving an ecstasy of vision in the moment.
Things slow down as I focus all my concentration on here, now. I let go, and my photos take me where my feet and heart want to go flow doesn't really give me answers, but in it I am fully alive."
“It’s like opening a door that’s floating in the middle of nowhere and all you have to do is go and turn the handle and open it and let yourself sink into it. You can’t particularly force yourself through it. You just have to float. If there’s any gravitational pull, it’s from the outside world trying to keep you back from the door.”
Create your own haiku photographs in Photoshop. Find out why photographers love photo haiku. Touch on the aesthetics of haiku.
Why are so many photographers exploring and enjoying haiku? Abe Museki, the originator of the photo-haiku genre, once wrote: “photo-haiku has succeeded in the Internet world because photography matches haiku so well."
Words and pictures together are more potent than either alone. Haiku photography combines an image with a short poem to link the essence of nature with human life. The idea is not to describe, but to allow readers to experience, in their imagination, the same feeling you felt, when you saw beauty.
Haiku appeals to a spectrum of people with its differing forms. There is haiga, tanka, renga, choka and many other forms. Traditional haiku has a kigo, or a reference to the seasons. There is Hawaiian haiku, even insect haiku. Nature photographers in particular are drawn to haiku to capture singular moments.
Not by giving answers to riddles, but rather by opening doors of consciousness, haiku invites us to observe the immediate moment with our full attention. This is in harmony with the essence of contemplative photography.
At the end of this article, I'll describe 6 steps to creating a photo haiku in Photoshop®.
First, we'll see that haiku is about nature, oneness, and has a fascinating history.
Haiku Past: a wordless poem
Traditionally, haiku poets wrote about nature and our oneness with its winds, seas and sensations. Sometimes serious, often comic – haiku began with scholars in China, and spread widely in Japan. Visually, it was usually a single vertical line of text on the page. It did not rhyme. The theme often referenced a season of the year.
Haiku went far beyond scholarly writing. Long called the “wordless poem,” haiku was a way of life, often linked to spiritual practice. Poets and common folk alike wrote haiku to praise nature, and to open the mind and heart. Matsuo Basho, the best known haiku poet, was a Japanese samurai who devoted his spiritual life to writing masterful haiku poetry. My own haiku is but a poor, pale shadow of the master.
Haiku Present : wit and human nature
Since Basho’s time (1644-1694), Western writers have more recently altered haiku’s structure and content. Jack Kerouac wrote haiku. Richard Wright, African-American author of Native Son, also wrote a series of haiku.
Not all haiku is serious, and today it may not follow a set number of syllables. As an example of modern haiku, George Swede's haiku sparkles with wit:
Thick fog lifts
unfortunately, I am where
I thought I was
Your Haiku Photograph
How do you make a haiku photograph? Begin by observing a passing moment, like a lightning bolt or a moment of human relations. You can also begin with a memory or association. Then make a camera image.
Think about what you perceived, heard, or sensed during your experience. Your short poem can be about what happened. It can capture what you imagined might have happened. Use simple language when writing your haiku. Let the words give your viewers a new point of view on your image. The best haiku photography does not give answers, it just opens a door. . .
A Soulful Poem
Some Western haiku translators may have misunderstood the Japanese meaning. For instance, in Japanese, " sound-symbol" was translated to mean "syllable" when Japanese haiku was translated to English. However, sound symbols are not equal to English syllables, and 10 to 14 English syllables, not 17, more closely matches the length of the haiku poem (Cor Van Den Heuvel, 1999).
Modern haiku can be one, two or three lines; what counts in understanding haiku photography is keen insight into a significant moment. Creating haiku photography means taking the viewer into the full import of an experience, not writing fancy poetry. Haiku should enter one's soul unobtrusively.
The Way We've Never Seen Before
One question to ask when writing haiku: "Does the poem let me see the photo in a way I’ve never seen it before?" Another inquiry to consider when making a haiku photo is "Can I sense a meaningful presence in this haiku photo moment?"
How to Create a Haiku Photograph in Photoshop: 6 Easy Steps
Step 1 START) Open your photograph using File > Open.
2) Add your text. Click IMAGE > Canvas Size. Change width to 300 pixels wide. If your picture was 800 pixels, make the width 1200 pixels.
3) Likewise, add 400 pixels to the height. Note that you can customize the canvas color by clicking Canvas extension color: drop-down menu at the bottom of the Canvas Size dialog box.
4) Click the Text Tool in Photoshop’s toolbox. Select your font style from the upper toolbar. Type in the text of your poem. If you want to move down a line, hit the "enter" key on your keyboard. Click Photoshop's check mark to commit your edits (the check mark is at the top of Photoshop's display, in the middle of the Options bar that runs horizontally across the top of the screen). To view your text layer, open the Layers palette by clicking WINDOW > Layers ( F7 ).
5) Position your text poem by using the move tool in the toolbox.
Step 6 FINISH) With your poem text and your picture on two separate layers, save your Photoshop file as a .PSD file so you can edit it later. For example, later on you might want to change the colors, or the poem and these changes are easy to do with Photoshop's non-destructive .psd files.
Haiku photography is a thriving art form in the information age. The rapid growth of digital imaging will support new forms of haiku with fresh possibilities. As a throng of young artists publish their diverse work on the web, haiku photography will continue to grow.
1. For excellent haiku with accompanying images, find Shoji and other poets at Haiku Poets Hut: haikupoetshut.com/haikuphotndx.html
2. Michael Rehling’s work is true to the spirit of haiku: http://www.haikuhut.com/Photo%20Haiku%20-%20Michael%20Rehling.htm
3. Enjoy the diverse art of Mark Brooks, Roderick Stewart and Ray Rasmussen at Rays Web: http://raysweb.net/fall-haiku/
4. Ron Rosenstock’s excellent large format black and white imagery is joined with Gabriel Rosenstock’s haiku at: http://www.worldhaikureview.org/3-2/rosenstock-photohaiku/pages/01.html.
Rethinking SQUARE: How Framing Creates Intimacy
What is a square? There are two kinds. Understand the second kind, and you can powerfully command a viewer to look, and make portraits more appealing by rethinking how we understand the square.
Example One: Bride with Mother
At left, the picture of the bride and her Mother has the proportion of a traditional square, 12 " by 12". These 12" by 12" dimensions are the proportions the camera recorded.
For the Optical Square photo at right, I did not change the crop, but changed the proportions of the image in post processing. This change added a half inch of height while keeping the exact same width (12" by 12.5"). The Optical square reinvents the concept as well as the dimensions of the square.
From my experience with clients for wedding photography, I know that most brides, not all, prefer the Optical square presentation over the boring traditional square. Why is this so?
True squares can appear wide and broad, due to the visual weight of their top and sides. Perceptually, ourbrains respond to verticals more than to horizontals.
Like trees, their shape gives them living dynamic qualities. We perceive that they have a living quality. Also, our perceptions influence what we expect. Visually, we expect that parallel lines will be vertical. Then there is the concept of visual weight. The elements in a photograph have a visual, perceptual weight. Add to this the presence of gravity, or the visual weight of the top and sides of a square, and our perceptions makes us feel that traditional squares feel dumpy and heavy. These are not feelings a client wants to have for their intimate portrait.
The optical square keep our clients smiling, and I believe it makes our portraits even more intimate.
One of these views seems more intimate. Why?
The topmost of the two is more intimate for two reasons. The framing commands a viewer to look. The crop spacing places the eyes asymmetrically, in the upper left of the frame. This gives a viewer's gaze a chance to scan and briefly return to rest there.
Also, the crop brings the viewer closer, so we sense a greater intimacy, while the frame edge keeps the eye within the frame as it simultaneously cuts out the large white area of his hat. These two changes bring the viewer emotionally closer to the portrait.