I am excited to share with you a few more deliberations from my upcoming book, “Seeing Simplified – 100 Photographic Deliberations.” I hope you enjoy this Simplicity-In-Seeing exclusive.
One of my most important goals in photography is to present my viewer with a sample of the visual world. Most of us photograph close to home so we are exposed to familiar visuals and situations. Nevertheless, a creative photographer who is a careful and dedicated observer should always be looking for an unusual perspective.
When walking around the city I try to look up, which is something people rarely do. After all, we are in a rush to beat the traffic and get to our destination as quickly as possible. Even on vacations we tend to stroll from one point to another to cover as much ground as we can. We do not take time to stop, soak up the atmosphere and breathe. There is no obvious incentive to change our perspective, after all.
To uncover new and intriguing visuals, I slow down, look at my feet and look way up. Most of the time there is nothing special there. But from time to time I find a strange world that has magical visuals I can share with the busy world around me through the medium of photography.
Exploit the light
One of the obstacles to innovative seeing is the fact that our sight doesn’t allow us to darken or brighten the scene. Our eyes, rather, adjust to the available light. One of the most powerful tools at a photographer’s disposal is the ability to adjust the brightness of the image (or in professional terms, to use exposure compensation).
The image might confuse, as the wall of this building in Barcelona is lit up while the black space separating the two buildings might be perceived as night. It is nothing but a dark structure which I placed to create a black canvas in the middle. Of course, the image is drastically underexposed (darkened) to display both buildings in strong sunlight. This manipulation allowed me to create an image which is certainly going to puzzle some viewers.
Early on I learned that if my camera allowed for exposure compensation, I would use it and learn to imagine such changes. Then I could create highly immersive visuals and awe the viewer with a fresh look at something commonplace.
As I was walking with a friend around Krakow, Poland, we reached some stairs leading to the main street. In the middle of the stairs I looked up and noticed this unusual perspective.
The church on the left, although grand and prominent in reality, became an almost miniature structure while the street lights were dominating giants. Then two men were walking side by side creating a strange silhouette as if they were one. This low perspective allowed me to use the blank sky as a white canvas underlying all the essential elements.
I find I always need to look harder when I don’t want to or I’m lazy. Curiosity and playing with perspective has become part of my seeing. I am not talking only about times when I’m holding my camera in my hands. I realize I need to interrogate, question and challenge everything around me. Whether I walk around my neighborhood or photograph an exciting new place, I must always be curious.
Light where you want it
With today’s cameras capable of taking images with very little light (high ISO) and the growing popularity of HDR imagery, there is a tendency to have it all, beautifully lit and visible. It’s too bad, because the most striking photographs are not about what you see but rather what you don’t.
I try to think in terms of where I want the light and where I don’t want any light at all. If I make the decision early on, I find I’m on the right path to creating a strong image.
I have found that one way to do that is to underexpose the scene (using exposure compensation) before making any design decisions. After underexposing some scenes by 2 or 3 stops, my idea of the image changes completely. I try to keep in mind that what is in front of me, what I see, is only the starting point of my creative seeing. Maybe it is not worth showing some elements at all!
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