Saturday, August 24, 2013

August Photography Book Club: week 4

It's the fourth and final week of the  August Photography Book Club and our study of Freeman Patterson's Photography and the Art of Seeing. I know this is a busy time for many of us, but I hope you will still read and participate as you are able. Catch up by reading any of the following or just jump right in from here.
If you don't have access to a copy of the book, you can still join in by participating in the exercises and reflections below. If you do have the book, you'll have a lot more material to draw upon and work with.
Exploring the impact of shutter speed by panning while shooting. Panning Experiment by Archaeofrog on Flickr.
To see more what others have been coming up with, take a look at the photographs on the Flickr group page or tagged bookclub-seeing1bookclub-seeing2, or bookclub-seeing3.

Week 4 will focus on the last sections in the book: Elements of Visual Design: Color, Principles of Visual Design, Working with Visual Design, and Photography and the Art of Seeing.sBelow, I've provided a few quotations that struck me from these sections and some suggestions for exercises. (All page numbers refer to the 2011 edition, and I've kept his Canadian spellings when quoting.)

Elements of Visual Design: color
This section continues the discussion of tone from last time and adds the element of color and the connection between color and emotional response. Patterson continues to emphasize the process of identifying a reason for an image, choosing a subject matter to express that theme, and now, considering the placement and size of the color(s). He also discusses how color can express time or harmony, and how colors are often perceived in relation to the other colors present.

"There is no 'correct' way to render the colours in this picture, but some ways will lead to more effective expression than others. Let your technique be determined by what needs to be expressed rather than by technical goals such as a search for colour harmony" (pg. 114).

He suggests an exercise in self-evaluation: "examine some of your old photographs. Try to determine the elements of visual design that have influenced you the most" (pg. 115). Then, challenge yourself to try something different: a series of monochromatic shots focusing on tones or of black-and-white images or of muted, monochromatic color or ...
Monochromatic take on snow. (This is actually a color image.) Winter Monochrome by Archaeofrog on Flickr
Principles of and Working with Visual Design
Patterson offers a theory of visual design centered on two main principles – simplicity and dynamics (tension) – and five secondary principles – dominance, balance, proportion, pattern and rhythm, and deformation (or distortion). He explains briefly about each of these major and minor principles, some ways to achieve them, and some ways to change and manipulate them.

About tension: "Our normal visual experience is dynamic, because the tension between the colours, shapes, sizes, and locations of things keeps our eyes constantly moving. Photographers control tension by the way they balance objects in the picture space" (pg. 119).

You can explore deformation by experimenting with how different lenses (and/or different focal lengths) influence the perspective of the final image. Choose a subject matter and photograph it with a wide angle lens, making sure the subject occupies a significant portion of the image. Now, zoom out to 50 mm (or switch lenses) and back up from your subject until it occupies roughly the same portion of the image. Take another image. (I suggest shooting in aperture priority mode to keep your aperture the same in all images.) Now zoom out to 100 mm, continue to back up and recompose, and shoot again. Continue zooming out and backing up until you have reached your longest zoom. Take some time to compare and evaluate your images. How have the images changed compared to each other? How has your subject become more or less deformed? Do you have a favorite of the series and why?
New Zealand Milford Sound, framing
Branches or other natural objects can create a 'frame' within your photograph that focuses the eye and emphasizes your subject. Milford Sound, New Zealand by Archaeofrog on Flickr
Patterson also suggests several guidelines to consider when applying the principles of visual design to a given situation. He asks us as photographers to consider the center of interest, the base, whether to fill the picture space, how and when to use a frame or a window, when to use a lack of perspective to our advantage, when to consider 'amputating' your subject, why we should concern ourselves only with 'appropriate color,' a reminder to consider exposure, and the importance of symbolism. Each of these topics could be the subject of a photographic exploration. Choose one (or more) to focus in on and see how it influences your photography. The series of photographs that follows this section offers additional ideas about some of these principles and guidelines.

Photography and the Art of Seeing
The last section in the book is more an application than a summary of all the points presented throughout. Patterson shares his own experiences with participating in some of the same challenges he has offered his students and his readers. (In the 2011 edition this includes spending an afternoon photographing a white plastic chair and playing with light in glassware, while the earliest editions include a study of a gravel quarry.) Find a similar object or subject or situation and see what you can come up with, now that you have this book and its lessons in mind.

Multiple Ways to Join the Book Club
Want to participate? Post a comment with your thoughts or a link to a picture you've taken for the Book Club and an explanation of how the book influenced your image. Or, you can post pictures and contribute to the discussion by joining the Photography Book Club Group on Flickr.

Parting words for the week: "Having made hundreds of compositions by the end of the afternoon, I realized that I had really only begun. That often happens when you play – one thing simply leads to another. There's no better way to learn. That's why we are all children first" (pg. 147).
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