I am delighted to share with you an excerpt from my upcoming book, “Seeing Simplified – 100 Photographic Deliberations.” I hope you enjoy this Simplicity-In-Seeing exclusive.
A hand in the air, X100F, 1/1000 sec at f/7.1
One of the key themes in this book is observation. If you really pay attention to what’s happening around you will notice that you get better and better at anticipating situations on the street.
I was watching an older gentleman walking with his family or friends. Since it was a very windy day, his hair got really messy at times. While observing his flying hair I noticed a shadow falling on the office high-rise in the background. I passed the gentleman, positioned myself on the edge of the sidewalk and waited for him to enter my frame. At the back of my mind was his hair so I prepared to frame only his head with the notion that a gust of wind would raise his hair in some funny way. In the meantime, as he entered my frame he raised his hand to flatten his hair and it was exactly what I needed. The caption for this fleeting moment was only possible because I anticipated what could happen.
As you observe, make scenarios, imagine and write your own script. You will be surprised how often things come together the way you thought they would.
Design your own worlds
A mosaic, X100F, 1/900 sec at f/5.6
Office building, wooden beams, trees, interior lights – all together – why not! One of the most fascinating compositional plays in photography is taking numerous elements and putting them into one fascinating and harmonious mosaic. One thing is for sure – it is not for the faint-hearted. In fact, this type of imagery is extremely difficult to create.
Yes, there is plenty of similar imagery on the internet. Unfortunately, most photos are one big mess. Not only do they lack visual balance but there are too many elements competing, making the image difficult to understand and impossible to enjoy.
You must accept that in 99.9% of attempts to create this multi-layer you will fail miserably – as I do. Your role as a photographer and an artist is to recognize those which are worth displaying to a wider audience.
Something is not right here…
A library of light and shadow, X100F, 1/600 sec at f/5.6
When going through photography websites, especially when imagery is being ranked in a very democratic way, you will notice most “liked” photos follow a certain formula. Most of them are meticulously processed in Photoshop, often with an unreal dose of sharpness, with eye-catching light and colour distributed perfectly in the frame. In other words, the grand reveal is so powerful that you have no option but to take a glance. Unfortunately, as soon as you see the entire frame, the excitement dies down and the urge to see the next one overwhelms your senses. We, as the audience, are not being challenged enough – the repetitiveness of the visuals has made us prone to the mass consumption of movies, music and imagery.
One way to break through the wall of indifference is to design your images so that the viewer will not be able to decipher the image right away. One of the techniques I use is to create a vast white space in the frame by overblowing the highlights. Every time I showed this photo to someone, the person paused and stared, confused by the white part of my frame, which often blended into the white pages of my computer screen. Their brain had a hard time finding the borders and deciding on the visual logic of what they saw. There is no better compliment for your work when your viewer starts with “What is it?” then goes through a long discovery process, only to end with “This is so cool.”
Turning the ordinary into extraordinary
Stairs, X100F, X100F, 1/350 sec at f/3.6
There is nothing more powerful than a great image of an ordinary object. Elliott Erwitt described it this way: “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place” and “I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.
No, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on exotic trips to distant locations to create stunning imagery. Look at the world around you. Walk around your neighbourhood, look at ordinary things like a bench, stairs, a garbage can…these trivial objects are often dismissed by our screen-locked eyes. You will think that sometimes these objects look ordinary, even boring. However, if you keep coming back at different times of day, you will notice subtle differences and eventually encounter something extraordinary. It could be a pocket of light hitting a garbage can, an interesting person sitting on the stairs or one amazing leaf that just fell off the tree. Observe, engage your senses and learn to find the extraordinary in ordinary things.
After all, you are a designer
A chair, X100F, X100F, 1/800 sec at f/6.4
When I was a teenager I was interested in industrial design. I was fascinated by how some companies could design a product which not only performs its native function but is also pleasing to the eye. For example, the success of Apple during Steve Jobs’ years mostly came from prioritizing design over everything else. While other companies have designers, they are often forced to compromise to meet a certain engineering criteria.
When you craft your imagery, you must take the “design first” approach. Technical considerations should never dominate seeing and crafting the photograph. Quite often I see photographers trying so hard to make a technically perfect image that they consciously or unconsciously put seeing and design in the back seat. Such thinking often leads to weak, busy images which are difficult to understand.
All great photographers are also great designers. Some of them know just where to place each element to make the most impact. You don’t need exotic locations or fancy elements in your frame. Start with simple items you encounter every day, watch how light interacts with them and try to create an appealing design. It is a much more useful skill than spending hours learning how to play in Photoshop.
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