Gesture on a Mission

Hat Sales

Every other month I give a short lecture at the local camera club on a fundamental compositional technique as an introduction for the following months member submissions. Some recent topics have including using line, light, color, placement, depth, and movement. This month’s topic is “Using Gesture”.

The lectures always start with the same mission statement:

We are looking for exceptional images where the composition component – compositional element goes here – is a major contributor to the image’s story, mood, emotion, and purpose.

I break down this mission statement as follows:

  • exceptional images: focusing on the compositional element only does not ensure that you will create an exceptional image. Foremost, I want to remind the members that we are after great photographs and the compositional elements are only a piece of the puzzle.
  • major contributor: the main purpose of these assignments is to focus on the compositional element and to practice that particular element like a pianist practices their scales. To include the compositional element as a subtle part of the image is missing the point.
  • story, mood, emotion, and purpose: these words are included to make the photographer realize an interesting subject alone does not create story, mood, emotion, and purpose. The composition, among other things such as the use of time, focus, and processing, play an important role in carrying the photographers message.

This mission statement has served my lectures well, however as I worked out the lecture on gesture, I realized that the statement was not strong enough. I realized that gesture is so fundamental to my images that it is more than just a “major contributor” it is their essence. This also provided real insight into why I am so disinterested in most posed street portraits.

Here is the new mission statement I created for working with the compositional element: Gesture

We are looking for exceptional images where the composition component – Gesture – is used to tell the to the image’s story and to create its mood, emotion, and purpose.

Using Light

MONGOLIA_20170920_00435-Edit-Edit.jpg

Every other month I present a Digital Composition Challenge to the Thousand Oaks Photo Group. This months challenge is Using Light with the objective to have the photographers think about light and how it is contributing to the image. The challenge is to make photographs where light and shadow are a major contributor to the image’s story, mood, emotion, and purpose.

First some basics. We know that all photography is about the capture of light, but some photographs rely on strong and angular lighting to tell the story and convey the mood. Some photographs are about the light itself.

When thinking about using light, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Where is the light falling?
  • Why have you chosen to position the light (or position yourself to the light) at that angle?
  • What elements are lit?
  • What elements are show by shadow?
  • Can you see the light? (not just the reflectance of the light)
  • Are there significant elements created by by shadow?
  • Would changing your position to the light change the story or impact?
  • Would increasing or decreasing the amount of light change the story or impact?

Tips for Using Light

  • When outdoors – shoot during early morning or late afternoon when the low angle of the sun creates strong directional light
  • Experiment with back light and side light
  • Experiment with low-light situations with a small, yet, poignant use of light
  • If using flash – move the flash off the camera

I always showcase images of my own and others. Here is an album of images of mine and some links to other photographers.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A lesson with Sam Abell – Micro-composition

Recently I took a workshop called “Sharpening your Photographic Vision” with Sam Abell, a veteran National Geographic photographer, at the Julia Dean Photo Workshops studio. This lesson is about macro-composition and micro-composition.

Sam and I were walking up the beach when we saw the curved boardwalk winding through the sand. I commented that it might make a good macro-composition. Sam was teaching us to find the macro-composition, the overall composition and lighting, and then fit a subject inside with, what he calls the micro-composition. On the macro-composition, he would tell us to mind the corners and make them strong. On the micro-composition it was all about find a clean space for all the elements. He would call the macro-composition “The Setup”.

The Setup

So Sam helped me frame up the macro-composition, using the path to create strong corners and we took a few shots comparing our ideas. He then agreed to be my subject and took deliberate walk down the path. But Sam knew something I did not. Sam knew that this composition would not work. There was no space for the micro-composition. No space for the subject to fit within the scene.

First Series

As you see in this sequence, there are only two reasonably strong frames: the first and the last. In the first frame, Sam just simply overpowers the scene behind. Unfortunately, to keep his head, and really just his hat, above the commotion of the roller coaster, I had to cut off his feet. The last frame is interesting because, however small, it shows Sam cleanly composed against the green fence. I needed to find a macro-composition that would allow room for my subject while they were still strong in the frame.

Second Setup

I shifted to a new position a few steps to the right. I was still using the background and the strength of the pathway into the corners, but this time I had room for the subject to move through the image. Sam walked again. The outcome was more successful but now illustrated that I had left too much space for the subject and also inadvertently cut off the edge of the trash barrel and the edge of the roller coaster. Note however, the clean composition around Sam and each trash barrel. This is the micro-composition.

Final Setup – macro-composition and micro-composition in balance

The final positiong produced our objective. With just a slight modification of my position, I achieved a clean background of sky, roller coaster, trash barrels and path. There is a good balance between the space for the subject to walk and the presence of the background. Moreover, look at how the shadow fits within the frame. The micro-composition fits Sam just right in between both the two large trashcans and the two smaller ones.

Thank you Sam for your patience and lesson.

Pigeons on 12th and Maple – On Composition

Pigeons on 12th and Maple
Pigeons on 12th and Maple by I Nancy, on Flickr

Last weekend I took a workshop from Sam Abell. It was entitled “Sharpening your Photographic Vision”, or something like that, but it was really all about composition. This man is a master of composition. He talks of macro composition and micro composition. Background and layers. He also talks about approaches to get these kinds of images to happen.

Here we had just arrived on our morning location at 12th and Maple in downtown LA. Of course we all saw the 200 or so pigeons on the wires above us. Sam’s words – compose and wait – find the background and then wait for the subject to come to you, miracles happen.

From time-to-time, the pigeons were coming into the street, so I found the orange background got down and waited for the birds to do something interesting. The street merchant threw rice in the gutter, the pigeons came down to eat, the van entered the intersection, the pigeons exploded, and a man rode through dressed in black wearing a hat.

In this image I achieved a deeply layered composition. We have the pigeons in front with all of their movement and flurry. A background of orange with the street patterns adding more visual interest. A “V” in the front of the image and the diagonals complete the macro-composition. In the micro-composition is the 12th St street sign – free from obstruction, its blue color standing out against the rest of the background,  the van which looks like it is bursting through the intersection, and the man riding through.

Miracles happen.

It’s still about the light

Boat Night In
Boat Night In by I Nancy, on Flickr

I was listening to Scott Bourne’s Photofocus podcast today and one of the questions went roughly like this: “When heading to a new place, how do you figure out where to shoot?”. And Scott’s answer, in typical Scott pithiness, was to follow the light – “In good light, you can take a picture of a fire hydrant in Barcelona and convince people to go there.”

So here is this old sad fishing boat in Morro Bay. The evening light was falling with just a few rays left to help highlight this ol ‘gal.

Where is the Light?

Good Morning
Good Morning by I Nancy, on Flickr

Your at a location and your mind is running through its paces. You are asking yourself questions. What is the location telling you? What do you want to concentrate on? What lens should you chose? What camera settings are you going to choose? Where is the light? – Where IS the light?

Here I was shooting predawn at the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse area just above San Simeon. At some point I turn around and BAM!, there was the light. A beautiful light – skimming across the glass lands and lighting up the wildflowers like evening sparklers. I was shooting long and recorded the lines and colors and undulating fields as well as the muted foothills in the background.