September 17, 2017

Compose and Wait – A compositional How

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As part of my lecture series at Thousand Oaks Photo Group I have covered a lot of topics:

Light, Color, Line, Perspective, Gesture, Movement, Point of View, Layers, Scale, Placement, Simplicity, Figure Ground, Repetition, Framing, Still Life Linked to a Scene, Portraits of Place, Environmental Portraits, Personal Access

These are all things that can be observed in the final image. The “what” of composition. This past meeting, I wanted instead to talk about the “how”. How do you achieve one of those compositions that effectively use these compositional grammars. My answer, and the answer I have learned from others (including my photo mentor Sam Abell) is to “compose and wait”.

It is really quite simple to describe:

  1. Compose a background.
    • It must be interesting, aesthetically photographic, and include a opportunity for action to occur.
  2. Establish your position, framing, and settings
    • What will be in or out of the frame
    • What focal length will you choose
    • What aperture, shutter speed, ISO – will it require exposure adjustments?
    • Study the relationships between object and plan for where your action will occur
  3. Wait for the moment
    • Let the action walk into you frame
    • Identify the moment within the gesture that will best tell the story
    • Try to anticipate the next movement and be ready

Or if you want to see it in a cartoon (I had a little fun with this)

COMPOSE AND WAIT

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DON’T CHASE THE RABBIT

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I have already written a couple posts showing how I do this in action – go look at them now.

For another example, here is a set of images that I shot with a fixed 35mm lens while sitting on a bench at Laguna Beach. I was just sitting there, resting with my husband. These images were captured over the course of about 20 minutes. They show the varied kinds of resulting images that are possible when you compose and wait for the moment.

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August 19, 2017

Many Heads

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I’ve been spending a lot of time over the past few weeks preparing for a lecture to the Ojai Photo Club on personal documentary projects and editing and refining a set of 17 prints for a gallery opening at the Four Friends Gallery on Sept 7th (1414 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. Suite 111, Thousand Oaks, CA  91362 –  opening reception from 5pm – 9pm).

It always amazes me how different people get drawn to different photographs. Here is a photograph that was passed over for a project when I originally took it. However, while preparing the edit for the gallery display: City of Angels – casual observations of the life and life-systems of downtown Los Angeles, this image was a must have.

I remember being drawn into the repetition of heads and the three feet sticking up over the $1.99 sign.

Enjoy.

May 21, 2017

Something Different

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I’ve been watching the show The Mind of A Chef. Over the course of a season, about 8 episodes are dedicated to an in-depth, first-person, look into one of the pre-eminent current chefs-restaurantuer. These are chefs in the prime of their careers and each has an extraordinary focus and command on the detail and food experience. And although they have all found their unique expression through their unique food, the shows also document their thrill and joy in sharing other food experiences of both high and low food.

I thought about these chef’s ability to think beyond their focus and to appreciate other perspectives, as I prepared these three images for the Ojai Arts Center in 2017 Photography Brach exhibit this June. Each year the Ojai Photography branch hosts a month-long juried show. The shows are always themed and the themes are often conceptual and artists are encouraged think openly about their interpretation of the theme.

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This year’s theme is The Animal Kingdom, which seemed straight forward enough even for a street photographer like myself. Then I read the fine print. The emphasis this year is to pay homage and honor the animal kingdom during this time of ecologic uncertainty. Now I had a bit more of a challenge since most of my images of the animal kingdom show man’s domination over animals: dog shows, tagged cattle grazing on the side of the road, or giant swan-shaped boats on a lake.

Then I remembered a set of images that I took of three great Lusitano show horses being allowed to run off some energy and show their grace and power in a barn in Portugal. These horses were magnificent and, being a street photographer, I had to really put my thinking hat on in order to capture their magnificence with my limited horse-photography skills. What I arrived at was a series of abstracts. However, these images have sat dormant on my hard-drive as I never quite found a venue to show them off. Now, at last I have an opportunity to honor these horses and their trainer, Carlos Oliveira, who tragically passed in 2016.

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May 13, 2017

A Sense of Place – Composition Lesson

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When I returned from Japan, I wrote a blog post simply entitled “Portraits of Japan”. These images are of a genre that I call a sense of place. In contrast to images about individual things, these are images about the whole. These images convey the sense of being there.

I am introducing this concept to the Thousand Oaks Photo Group for the June Digital Composition Challenge – where every other month I introduce a compositional approach to help our members grow as photographers. A Sense of Place is an image that captures the mood, sensibilities, and essence. Think if it as a portrait of a place.

How to capture the Sense of a Place

What’s the message?

As a photographer, the first thing we need to do, for any image, is to determine the message we want to convey with our image. To capture a sense of place, this means trying to identify what makes it what it is and what makes the current circumstances unique. Years ago, I read the book “Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision” by David duChemin There is one particular topic he discusses in the book that I have carried with me since the day I read it. David talks about taking an inventory of what you see and feel and then using that to determine what to capture.

  • What objects are around you: natural, man-made, regular patterns or chaotic, filled or sparse?
  • What is the weather and atmosphere: hot, cold, misty, windy, dry, wet
  • What are the structures like: old, new, majestic, grand, tiny, dilapidated?
  • What do you feel: busy, crowded, lonely, forgotten?

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What visual tells the story?

Once you have consciously gone through this inventory process, the next step is to determine how to capture as much of this inventory in the images your are going to make.

  • How do you capture the heat? the wind? the calm silence?
  • How much do you include?
  • Are people a part of the story or not?

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Capture the whole

Finally, these images are about capturing the whole, not the fussy details.

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Portraits of Santa Anita Racetrack

Places have many messages and many stories. During the last Thousand Oaks Photo Group field trip to Santa Anita Racetrack, I thought not just about capturing the people (the people were wonderful), but also about capturing the whole – the sense of the racetrack. Here are a few images.

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Use all the composition all techniques

It is important to remember all the compositional techniques that you have learned – the inclusive approach needed for capturing the whole is perhaps more difficult than reductive approach of focusing on the details.

  • Look at the line, light, and color
  • Find an expressive point of view
  • Layer the foreground with the background to link things to their environment
  • Include many elements, but pay careful attention to the relationships between objects: “nothing touches”
  • Wait for an expressive moment

Here are some additional examples:

A simple, humble, portrait of a building

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Landscape

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City scape

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Neighborhoods and Scenes

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Havana Morning

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May 7, 2017

More than one

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In photography, it is one kind of challenge to capture a single person in their environment in a engaging manner. Each person you add to the scene increases the difficulty. Each person must be engaging and in their own clearly defined space. You must be aware of the relationships between the people and their surroundings. Dancing with them as they move within the scene. If they notice you, you must decide whether to stay with the shot or walk away.

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When they are engaged in something that is important to them (who will win the race), then you can just stand in front of them and wait for the moment without a worry.

Sometimes, it is just a matter of seeing the pattern of three blue caps flanked by white shirts.

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From Santa Anita Racetrack

April 30, 2017

Photography Day at Santa Anita Racetrack

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Worker1: “There are a lot of people here this morning”
Worker 2: “It’s because it’s camera day”
I know I should write something, teach something, tell something about how I approach my photography. My blog posts have been pretty sparse since my husband’s illness in January 2016 with Gillian-Barre Syndrome (GBS) which we documented daily on his site Chick’s GBS Adventure.

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He is doing well, thank you, at about 75% of whatever normal might be had he not gotten GBS. He has his full mobility, but not full strength, and his feet are still “sleeping” and in pain. Our lives have changed. He has care-givers at the house most of the week, as he cannot yet drive due to the impressive doses of pain medication to keep the nerve pain under control. However, he may be more active than before GBS because now he has the company and driver to go places. He goes hiking, to yoga, and kick boxing. He goes to the beach and to museums. He and his care-givers do the shopping and the laundry. Unfortunately, often by the time I get home he has exhausted himself with the day’s activities. But his stamina is also improving and his nerves are slowly, slowly repairing.

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For me, I am enjoying new challenges at work, but I’ve been sick with a cold for the past week. I finally got out of the house today for the first time since I whimpered home from work on Wednesday. But I know that I too am only slowly returning to pre-2016 daily life. As I reorganized my Lightroom catalogs today, extracting my big trips and other important collections into their own catalogs, I again noticed that my 2016 catalog is very slim with a big gap between January 12th and November when I finally spread my photographic wings again during a luscious 2-week trip through Japan, following in Basho’s path, with Sam Abell, George Nobechi, and new found friends Mochi and Sake. Still, days out with the camera have been numbered and often limited to a few short hours.

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But this past weekend, on a lark, I joined with my buddies and went to Santa Anita Racetrack for Photography day. Santa Anita is one of two major thoroughbred race tracks left in California (since Hollywood Park closed a few years ago). It was built in 1934 and, like much of Los Angeles, reflect the Art Deco / Modern architecture of the day. It is caught right in the cracks of old, but not too old. And thankfully they have kept its great 1930’s esthetic intact all these years.

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It was a slow day at Santa Anita, so I was unable to get that big scene of the crowd cheering on their wining horse, but I had a great photographic day. For a street photographer, it was almost like shooting fish in a barrel as mostly folks gave me a quick glance, but then went right back to their study of the horses or betting.
I’m guessing I’ll be back, but not just for the horses.

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