Saturday, August 17, 2013

August Photography Book Club: week 3

It's week 3 of the August Photography Book Club and our study of Freeman Patterson's Photography and the Art of Seeing. 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.
Inviting by Archaeofrog on Flickr
Taken for week 2's concept of starting from a theme or idea and then seeking out a subject matter to express that theme.
To see more what others have been coming up with, take a look at the photographs on the Flickr group page or tagged bookclub-seeing1 and bookclub-seeing2.

Week 3 will focus on several smaller sections in the book: Unique properties of photography, How a camera sees space, Thinking about Visual Design, and Elements of Visual Design: Tone. Below, 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.)

Unique Properties of Photography and How a Camera Sees Space
Patterson begins by comparing and contrasting photography to other art forms, both two-dimensional and three-dimensional, and draws up a list of what he calls the "six fundamental characteristics of the photographic medium that distinguish it from other visual media" (pg. 83). These can be roughly summarized as
  1. With photography, you have "an already existing object in front of your lens" (pg. 84).
  2. "Photography has the capacity to render detail with a precision no other visual medium can match" (pg. 84).
  3. Photographers must act with the right timing for the moment or the image.
  4. Photographers have the potential to 'stop the world' with the speed of their exposures.
  5. Photography has a "special connection with chance" (pg. 85) but can still prepare to 'be lucky.'
  6. Photography is dependent on light. "One might say that a photographer paints with light" (pg. 86).
Patterson then moves into a discussion of how a camera can perceive a scene differently that we do with our eyes and warns that photographers must "be sensitive to any elements that will not be recorded as the eye perceives them" (pg. 88).
Using a slow shutter with a light source like the steel wool here allows you to capture a moment unlike what your eyes would be able to perceive. Read more about How to Spin Fire with Steel Wool.
Try to exploit one or more of these fundamental characteristics this week in your photography. See how 'stopping the world' (using a fast shutter speed) can change your perception of a scene or contrast with how you saw it with your eyes. (Here are some examples from the recent technique challenge of fast shutter speed.)
Using a fast shutter allows you to freeze a moment in time that you couldn't observe quickly enough with your eyes. Carefully timing and a healthy dose of luck captured this huge drop just as it fell.
Falling Water Drip Reflection by Archaeofrog on Flickr
Or, experiment with shooting fast moving or rapidly changing subjects in burst mode (several pictures at once). Take some time to sit down and analyze each image. Does one stand out as a better 'lucky' capture than another? What can you learn from that about capturing exactly the moment in only one shot?

Thinking about Visual Design and Tone
"A photographer works with two kinds of visual design – the design she [or he] observes in her [his] subject matter, and the design she [he] creates in her [his] photograph by the way she [he] arranges the subject matter" (pg. 101).

Patterson differentiates between ornamentation (frills and extras) and design (intention in composition) and challenges us to simplify our images by questioning the necessity of what we have decided to include in the frame. Try to draw this distinction in your own photographs this week. Can you eliminate the 'ornaments' to focus purely on the design? Share what you changed when trying this approach (or even a 'before' and 'after' comparison). What did you eliminate and why?

Patterson's section on tone focuses in on light, including both the quality (harshness or softness) and the direction (frontlighting, sidelighting, and backlighting) of that light. Light is then discussed in its relationship to line, shape, texture, and perspective. Try to experiment with light this week. Take a series of pictures changing the direction of the light (front, side, and back) by either moving your light source or moving yourself. See how this changes your image. Or, explore the idea of perspective: play with changing sharpness, relative size, relative location, or the obliqueness of objects in your photographs to see how their visual relationships change. You could even try a 'forced perspective' shot or an optical illusion by manipulating these relationships.
This photograph shows the impact of side lighting: harsh shadows and lack of detail on the unlit side.
One Light Portrait, Side Lighting by Archaeofrog on Flickr
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: "Critics who scorn the 'lucky' chance of a photographer are suggesting an accident takes place when a photographer captures a unique event that lasts for only a moment, but it is no accident if the photographer anticipates the event and knows how to use his [or her] tools … A photographer has to hope for and prepare for 'lucky' chance" (pg. 85).
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