Thursday, May 17, 2012

No Pictures, Just Rambling

Well, I have nothing more to share picture wise at the moment so I want to share something that I have been reading lately, a book that I purchased back when I was doing the book reviews for the camera club. Chasing the Light by Ibarionex Perello ends with a chapter titled, The Transformative Power of Light. I have probably reread this chapter a half dozen times in the last month or so. The entire chapter is worth a read and a reread but here is just the opening:

“Awareness of light changed the way I photographed for the better. Thought I had exposed hundreds of thousands of frames with both film and digital cameras, it wasn’t until I began to see and use the light that I was able to make the kinds of images that I had preconceived in my mind.”

“The awakening changed the way I photographed. But, more important, it changed the way I see, with and without a camera. The remarkable and awesome beauty revealed to me as a result of tuning into what’s happening with the light has been an amazing gift.”

Alcy and I spent a very intense day of photography yesterday. She is feeling frustrated with her new Nikon so we went to Glenwood with a note pad and spent a couple of hours photographing and rephotographing just to get down a routine. We finished up in Height’s Village doing the same thing. She went off to Galveston this morning for a couple of days of just her and the Nikon. Yesterday I wrote several pages of instructions which I insisted that she tear out and keep in her camera bag. There are many “technical” steps to taking a photograph but there were four that I wanted to emphasize:

1.       Check the camera to be sure there is no compensation set—everything at zero (this is the one I most often forget)

2.       Select your Point of View, decide what it is that you are photographing, what will be included, what will be excluded.

3.       Determine the preferred Depth of Field, how deep do you need it to be sharp and why.

4.       Select the Aperture that will give you the preferred Depth of Field.

This is a very simple list. Alcy has a very good eye for photos but she gets very frustrated with the operation of the camera. I will tell a story and when she gets back from Galveston she will probably kill me.

A few weeks ago we went to the Shangri La Botanical Garden in Orange. This was the primary destination. The previous day we had done a lot of photography and walking in Beaumont and Port Arthur for my Highway 287 Project, so when we arrive at the garden I was already a little worn down and I am not a botanical person. I was only there because Alcy wanted to see the garden and do some photography. I was there to assist with the camera operation. A few days prior to the trip Alcy had done a number of photographs of white Magnolia blossoms at Mercer Arboretum. They looked great on the LCD but when she got them on the monitor at home it was obvious that none of them were usable because the whites were totally blown out—a very common occurrence, especially with a new camera. At the garden she stopped to take a photograph of a white flower and I grabbed the opportunity to have a teaching moment. After she did the shot I asked her to bring up the histogram, the only reliable way to confirm exposure. After looking at the histogram and seeing that the whites were blown I suggested that she apply some minus EV correction. She stumbled around with locating the place to change EV and I feel certain I made some sort of comment—I usually say before I think. To which somewhat gruffly she replied, “I just want to set the camera on Automatic and take the picture.” Well that was the receipt for disaster that she had been following and it really stuck me the wrong way. Now I know I shouldn’t have let it bother me but my first thought was that here I was doing what I thought was my best to get her indoctrinated to a new camera and it appeared that she didn’t want to do anything more than take snapshots so I questioned to myself if it was really worth it. I said, “Well, set the camera on Automatic and take the picture.” Now that sounds pretty polite but I am sure it came out sounding more like, “Well, set the damn camera on Automatic and take the friggin’ picture” at least in tonality. I walked off.

I am sure that there were other factors that influenced my abruptness and the fact that her statement went all over me. I have been trying for quite some time to help other photographers achieve more with their photography. For three years I authored a photography discussion blog. For almost two years I have been writing a monthly book review to introduce photographers to authors that have something important to say about photography. I am either too stupid to convey what I would like to get across about photography or most photographers only want to put the damn camera on automatic and take the friggin’ picture. Nothing I have done seems to have had the least influence on the photographic behavior of anyone I know. I don’t claim to be anything special as a photographer but I do have a mindset about photography that I feel would be of benefit to other photographers. My five photographic principles seem to roll off their backs like water on a duck.

1.    The photograph is not the object photographed. Why do photographers look at photographs and only see them as the object photographed? They are not. A photograph is an entirely new entity and should be seen as a photograph. Nobody looks at a painting of a flower and thinks it is a flower—why do that to a photograph?
2.    There is no such thing as good photographic technique nor is there any such thing as bad photographic technique. There is simply technique applied appropriately or inappropriately.
3.    Technique is the sentence structure of the photograph—use it to make a statement. It sure as heck in not the purpose of making the photograph but you wouldn’t know that from talking to a group of photographers. To teach the how of technique without teaching the why of technique is like copying letter by letter a foreign language while having no idea what it says then judging the results on how painstakingly the letters are reproduced rather than the meaning of the words.
4.    Paining and photography are equal but mathematical opposites. A painter adds, a photographer subtracts. A painter starts with a blank canvas and MUST ADD the essential elements. A photographer starts with a canvas that is rich with elements and MUST SUBTRACT ALL BUT the essential elements.

5.    Every photograph makes two statements; one about the object or objects photographed and the other about the photographer. Very often they say more about the photographer than the object photographed.


  1. I'm rather keen on using aperture priority, it fits my way of seeing the world. I learned aperture priority when I bought my first camera, a Minolta XG-1, and it has been a lesson never forgotten.

    But when I bought for my daughter a second-hand Panasonic LX3, I didn't teach her aperture priority, even though that was my first instinct.

    Instead, I put the P mode into the custom settings, and recommended she use that at first, and then try the other options if she wants.

    She has been quite active with the camera, filling regularly the memory card with photographs. What I have seen has been quite different from my photographs, but I have been impressed by her progress. Let each learn their own way, I say.

  2. Juda, thanks for the post. Alcy takes a lot of flower photos which means that often there are high contrast situations, bright, light colored flowers against very dark shadowed backgrounds and sometimes very light speckled backgrounds. She may get frustrated with camera operation but she gets disheartened and discouraged with her photography when she loses photographs because of totally blown highlights. So learning to use the EV compensation is, in her case, something that will in the end make her much happier with her photography. I would like to help with that.

    I heard from her probably less than two hours after I posted to the blog—yes, I am in trouble—well not a lot because we have made a running joke of the situation. She also reports that she is having a great time in Galveston and that she is extremely pleased with the photographs she is getting and she is checking the histogram. LOL

    Like you I frequently shoot on Aperture Priority, however, I am a BIG fan and promoter of using Program. I cannot speak for cameras other than the Nikons that I have owned but P mode is actually a combination of Aperture and Shutter Priority which is changeable without removing you eye from the viewfinder and turning only one wheel with your thumb. As you know, P mode locks in the Exposure Value, a camera feature that I learned to love on my Konica IIIg back in the 1950’s and later on my Rollieflex. It allows quickly changing either the aperture or the shutter speed and have the camera automatically compensate the other. I can look into the viewfinder and see both the aperture and shutter speed displayed. I can make a decision as to which of the two is critical and by simply rotating the rear thumb wheel change which ever, the aperture or the shutter speed, and have the other compensated automatically. There is only ONE meter in the camera. As long as the light remains consistent and you meter off of the very same area you are going to get the same exposure regardless of which of the metering modes is being used. And, like your daughter, I find that using Program mode as Auto, even when I am to lazy or careless to pay attention to the settings, most often does an amazing job. Still follow your blog daily and I have to say I am envious of your in-camera option to select a square format—learned to love square on the Rollieflex.