Seeing & Looking
ONE: EXERCISE IN COLOR MOODS
EXERCISE: Choose a single color you don't usually photograph. For instance, winter hues of brown, light pink, deep blue, soft grey, cranberry or dark green can be fun to try to see and frame.
Take a least a half hour to photograph the hue you've chosen. If you are up north, colors may be muted and more subtle. Down south, you may have options for higher contrasts colors. If you see more than one color, try to use contrasting colors to balance the single color your chose first. Above, for this exercise in Nova Scotia, I chose soft orange gold hues in the sun to balance the dark green of the forest's edge.
TWO: LOW CONTRAST & BALANCE
Dial down the contrast and do not over-saturate. Try to avoid the editing approach of maximizing the saturation slider. Ditch the "Max Slider." Posting overly-saturated color imagery can detract from the forms that underlie a compelling image. Over-saturating is the visual equivalent of screaming or writing in all caps. It's unnecessary.
Stay away from off-balance colors. Colors that are in balance, together, resonate with each other like two tuning forks. The joy of this color exercise comes from, in part, learning to think outside our color boxes. For example, in some cultures, light blue and dark blue are two different colors. Our color concepts limit and predict how we see. So, attending to just one color, and perhaps those few colors that are in harmony, helps our awareness of color moods.
Try to see texture within the object or form.
It can be a challenge to begin. Jump start your photograph by deciding, the night before, that your morning project will be fun. Get up, and pay close attention to light. Make sure you are comfortably warm enough so you can concentrate and observe.
Observing means moving. Look up, down and inside of things. Shift your perspective to get lower, higher or closer. Like yoga, photography takes energy. Our position has to change. We may be in different poses in order to get distinct camera positions. Ask yourself: "How would a 3-year-old see that kitchen table, or a dog.
Vary your camera height and position means that you counter the habit of making shots from an eye level standing position. This helps your imaginative seeing.
Now, go deeper. Change the process of how you make images. If you habitually check your LCD screen, shut it off. If you often take 5-10 shots of a single thing, take only one. Give your workflow a little nudge. If you habitually make photographs that are sharp from corner to corner, experiment with softness and blur. If you spend just a few minutes with a subject, spend an hour looking at it, and come back to it in better light. The reason we shift our position is to push the limits of how we compose. This means investing time finding new vantage points and angles in search of interesting compositions.
FOUR: KEEP GEAR SIMPLE
I like to use one camera body and one lens. This helps keep me from overshooting, keeps me concentrating on light, timing and composition. For landscape and still subjects, instead of zooming or auto-focusing, I often simplify the camera settings to Manual mode. Taking the prime lens minimizes the time spent on focusing and exposure, which keeps my attention on the subject and not the screen or gear.
FIVE: READ TO INSPIRE
Reward yourself with a special drink, meal, and a classic photography book. I was inspired by William Neill's book and some delightful moments looking at his photographs of patterns in nature.
It helps our own work to see, not to copy, the work of master photographers. As photographer Robert Adams said: "Your own photography is never enough. Every photographer who has lasted has depended on other people's pictures too‒photographs that may be public or private, serious or funny, but that carry with them a reminder of community."
Editing our work, we not only improve its appearance, sound, and presentation, we trim down the number of images to share. Curating is vital. All photographers much reduce the number of photos in a portfolio or series to achieve a coherent theme.
We chose the best of the best. Because printing images helps to curate, I first print at smaller sizes, at 4" x 6", or 5" x 7". Then, I hang these on the wall so I can I pass by them often. After a couple months, a few get less interesting, so I may add a few new ones to the series. Later, I choose the 2 or 3 that truly resonate. I print these at a larger size. If its been a good year, 5 or 7 coherent, well-printed images are enough.
Photos and Writings by Jim Austin Jimages