“Scenes and Photographs" Some thoughts...

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brandtb

“Scenes and Photographs" Some thoughts...

Postby brandtb » Tue Aug 24, 2010 10:37 am

“Scenes and Photographs: Some thoughts about finding extraordinary images in ordinary landscape scenes”

I traveled recently through the Woodstock area and looked at many of the remarkable places that photographers from all over the world have visited with their cameras and tripods over the years – all after that wonderful image of the extraordinary Vermont landscape. I was fortunately traveling with my wife Catherine Croner, whose father Ted Croner was one of America’s greatest photographers, and she one of the best photo editors living…and no one better to go exploring with for great photographic opportunities.

Driving back to NY I had many thoughts about the wonderful Vermont landscape, and about photography…and decided to write some of them down in the following. I am going to be describing briefly the idea of “finding photographs in scenes” – bringing my own experience, opinions, thoughts to the subject…knowing that these are of course subjective. Anyway, let’s go…

We made the journey up the amazing Cloudland Rd. for the first time and stopped at Sleepy Hollow Farm – which we had seen numbers of photographs of online and in other venues. Her first comment was that the barns were not interesting as subjects, so probably not the basis for great photographs. I thought for a minute….looking at them…and had to concur. There is a solo barn building off to the left with a hill running downward in front of it…that is a very interesting subject, that together …on a fall or winter snowy morning…could make an interesting shot. This is the shot I’m waiting to see on the pages of www.scenesofvermont.com

Thought. We as photographers must stop and look and think about what we are seeing – and not take for granted the thousands upon thousands of Google entries about what has been the “God-send” of a landscape image type (hopefully we all want to take great images, and not just image types). As an architect – I can do this fairly naturally with built structures…determining on the spot if it is worth photographing or not. How do we do it if we are not? How do we ascertain what in the image is in fact…image worthy? Following are some thoughts about how one might go about it. I am going to use a number of examples of my own photographs, only because they are “at hand” and in my memory. Some are from my site www.brandtbolding.com and others are from a Blurb book prototype called “Farmall” which can be seen at http://www.blurb.com/books/1473994 In case of book examples I will use page number.

Gesture: I have never learned any greater lesson in photography than this

Jay Maisel who has been my erstwhile mentor for many years has always asked his students to always find this “trinity” in their work – Light, Color, Gesture. A really great photograph Jay would say has all three – but sometimes they have maybe two, or rarely just one. Gesture is the most difficult to ascribe meaning too, but the one with the most potential payoff. To understand gesture is to understand the image worthy. Note that it is important not to get “hung up” on the dictionary meaning of the word, as each photographer is going to learn how to give it his or her own meaning…and there can be thousands upon thousands. I will give a few brief examples of my own examples of gesture and they range widely.

1. Extraordinary/Interesting Building – e.g. I love the little connecting barn at the Jenne farm that has had its sides cut out so cows could go through. Learn to discriminate: What is a great building and what is an ordinary (non-photo worthy) building? Do mental exercises when you are out – to see if you can come up with examples.
2. Combination of Moderately Interesting Building with an Interesting (or extraordinarily interesting) Background, Sky etc. Page 30
3. Amazing Sky – on my site www.brandtbolding.com in the Landscape gallery the second and the ninth, and fifteenth images – have great gesture in the clouds.
4. Softness – fresh deep new snow on the ground and the trees, the velvety soft tops of cornstalks as they are illuminated by the sun as in the cornfield shot in my Farm gallery.
5. Mystery- the silhouette of figures in the dawn fog as in the third shot in the Farm gallery.
6. Movement – the clouds rolling like a ball over the top of a barn at dawn, illuminated by the morning sun
7. Silence or Aloneness. Page 25 – Dutch barn
8. Illumination. Page 33
9. A Color. Page 41
10. A Time Of Year. Page 41

When you can tell yourself what the gesture(s) is in your photograph, and why it is worth photographing before you snap the shutter – you have made the leap light years ahead of where you may have been before.


When Telling Too Much, Is Too Much

We naturally see “wide shots” when we look at landscapes around us. Our eyes non-discriminatingly take in everything that is in front of us like a huge optical vacuum cleaner. As photographers who are striving for great images, we are not trying to collect everything…but to find that magical something (note that when you open up the canister from your vacuum cleaner – what’s in there is not usually so interesting and almost never… magical). In a recent workshop with the great photographer Art Wolfe, he spoke about the importance of “going into” the shot. He would typically find a great landscape opportunity, but more often than not, the great shot was not the extreme wide shot – but was found by his moving “into the image”. If you get a chance to see his public TV program “Travels To The Edge” – watch it – he’s really great.

Two examples of shots of Waits River I find instructive in this regard. In the first sticky in the Vermont Photo Forums there are two photographs. The first is a wide shot or w.s.. The first problem with this shot is the sky. It is bland negative space and because this is included in the w.s. – it makes the photo much less interesting. By cropping in on the right one can also eliminate the problem white church dead in the center of the image which takes away all the dynamism by having a hum-drum static center (the usual rule is placement on “thirds”, or I sometimes prefer a ratio of 4 to 3). Because this shot is so wide, and takes in everything, it collects all that is brownish and amber – and it all becomes an amorphous color blob – which detracts the viewer from reading the image contents. As well, most of the contents, i.e., buildings are uninteresting subjects, so why include them all? Remember great books don’t include all the words in the dictionary…
The second photograph is a tighter shot of the white church flanked by two amber barns. This photographer is definitely onto some thing…and the shot is moving toward becoming a really great photograph worthy of a book, or magazine entry. The compression of foreground to background (a long focal length used?) creates a wonderful dynamism in the curving road approaching the church. The church is at point of roughly 4 to 3 horiz. and vertically which creates beautiful tension. That there are only three buildings to look at – two barnlike, and one stylish painted church – is easier for the viewer to take in and truly appreciate these structures. And what a wonderful gesture! – the counterpoint and contrast between the humble utilitarian barn structures, and the formal white church. Magnificent. The fact there is a limited amount of red popping out of the green and harmonizing with the amber barns is very strong and vibrant. Some blue sky would have been nice, but there wasn’t any that day…c’est la vie.

Thought. Jay Maisel sometimes says if it is a perfect day go home. He means that a perfect, bland blue sky e.g. as in the first Waits River example can make a photo uninteresting – because it has no gesture. I have found that the wonderful skies full of gesture often appear to me after cataclysmic storms, and often when I least expect “good results”. On page 7 of Farmall is a photo of a somewhat interesting barn on a really beautiful morning full of mist, and moisture on the corn, and the color Rose Madder in the b.g.. There had been a big storm the night before no reason so expect too much the next day at least from the forecast I saw. I happened to be driving past it just before dawn on the way to a video shoot…and whipped the car over pulled out my cameras and snapped this image. I got two like this and the battery had to be changed…and the magic disappeared. Ha. It’s interesting to note that I drove here again the next morning specifically to shoot at dawn…and it was an absolutely perfect sky…and absolutely worthless for photography.

On page 16 are the Persistence Foundation barns. I had started in the afternoon with a very nice and interesting sky (see first image in my Landscape gallery of the Birch trees) – had many great images from that part of the day. Then the most ominous and amazing dark clouds started appearing toward sunset…and I thought “now I’m NOT going to get that beautiful sunset” – but stuck around and what I got was a million times better than what I could have “preconceived” (pre-conception in photography is extremely dangerous and should be avoided at all costs – I learned this from my father-in-law Ted Croner – and he knew). The sunlight was compressed under the cloud layer and blasted against the buildings still with the wild clouds overhead. There are many other shots from this time of the day – never could have planned it – thank God still I was there for the magic.

On the next page 17, is another example. I had been driving home from a photo shoot, and very very tired. It had been raining really hard all the way down the interstate…and then started to clear up as I neared the exit close to where the windmill is located. I thought well, why not, you may just have to sleep longer tomorrow morning. I started shooting the most extraordinary sunset colors – amazing photos from this time of day. Then, the sun started to go down and the mist started to rise, creating these horizontal bands of blue green across the hill, and blue mist above and around the now barely visible windmill. This was not the “picture perfect” sunset I was shooting moments ago, but this was infinitely better…and this probably one of the greatest moments I have ever had photographing the outdoors. I never stop thinking about this moment.

In closing, I hope everyone has a wonderful autumn in Vermont this year. My hope for all of us would be to look for what has never been seen before, go where it is quiet and there are not “40 other tripods” and consider the gesture and what is truly singular and extraordinary within a landscape scene – find that magic…then... let the shutter click.
Last edited by brandtb on Tue Aug 24, 2010 2:12 pm, edited 3 times in total.


Andy
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Postby Andy » Tue Aug 24, 2010 1:20 pm

Brandt: Thanks for posting. The link to your blurb book does not appear to be working (at least is won't link when I click on it). It takes me to Blurb to a page that says "this page is nowhere to be found."
Andy

If it sounds too good to be true, its probably . . . .

brandtb

Blurb url

Postby brandtb » Tue Aug 24, 2010 1:29 pm

Andy - try this I think there may have been a period on the end by mistake - be sure to hit "full screen" little easier to see

http://www.blurb.com/books/1473994

brandtb

Blurb color off

Postby brandtb » Tue Aug 24, 2010 1:41 pm

Note that the Blurb conversion of CMYK TIFFS back to SRBG for their web preview wonked the color up on a number of images, no one worse than page 11 - it is no where near that "neon" looking

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Postby abby » Tue Aug 24, 2010 6:08 pm

Hi Brandt,
Thanks for posting....... it was interesting to read your thoughts and viewpoints. I really enjoyed your blurb book. Thank you for sharing. :-)
Carol

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Postby Andy » Tue Aug 24, 2010 9:10 pm

Thanks, Brandt. Link worked. Some nice images in there
Andy

If it sounds too good to be true, its probably . . . .

brandtb

Thanks

Postby brandtb » Wed Aug 25, 2010 7:31 am

Thanks, Andy, Carol

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Postby autzig » Wed Aug 25, 2010 8:27 pm

I agree that great photos typically have light, color and gesture. (Gesture is a new term to me, but I understand the concept from Brandt’s description.) The problem, of course, is finding them all together. We take our Vermont vacations when the color should be good, we shoot early and late to catch the good light but gesture; we can’t plan for that. All good photographers know what it is though.

I remember driving early one Vermont morning from my hotel in Barre to route 302, (I think it is) near Groton and Owl’s Head. As the darkness gave way to morning light, I could see fog in the valleys in the distance. I got so excited I was almost hyperventilating. I was afraid it would be gone by the time I got there. It wasn’t and I made some wonderful shots of fall foliage, nicely lit by the early morning sun and fog rising from Ricker Pond. I almost missed the shot of the steam rising from the river that babbled out of the lake.

Because we amateurs have day jobs and don’t make our livings with our cameras, we can’t find the perfect photo composition and then camp out and wait for the perfect light and perfect gesture. We take what we can get. We do get lucky once in a while and it is those moments that keep us from taking up fishing, golf or some other pastime.

Let's hope that this year, the color is as good we imagine and that the early morning and late day light our subjects as it passes through openings in that dramatic cloud cover.

Al

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Postby Andy » Thu Aug 26, 2010 6:26 am

As always, Al, well said.
Andy

If it sounds too good to be true, its probably . . . .

brandtb

Right on Al

Postby brandtb » Thu Aug 26, 2010 8:46 am

I think all my best photos were lucky, in the sense they were unplanned...I've been working with the physical instrument enough to know how to capture those lucky moments most of the time. That's one of the things I love about photographing the natural world...the chance. Your description of the steam rising from the river is just great and what gesture! The potential gestures in my mind..."early morning", "ephemeral aspect of nature", "movement", "lightness" (of the steam). Many others probably. (One thing - I might, in discussing clouds and dramatic skies - mistakenly implied that it is "best to have it" - and I didn't mean to imply this to much. It can certainly be part of a gesture. But as in my photo of the Dutch Barn near dawn where there are no clouds - it works for me...because the blankness of the sky combined with the field creates the gesture to me of stillness, or solitude.)

I've included a link at the end where one can purchase a downloadable interview with Jay Maisel by Michael Reichman...and he discusses "gesture" briefly. He also uses the wonderful phrase...'I want to create the poem from the evidence" which I think is just extrordinary. I cannot more highly recommend this (to you or others reading)- it's only $15. (Michael Reichman's site Luminous Landscape is a great repository of knowledge and info. - in case you don't check this out)

Good luck this fall Al...

(btw, I'm still not "making a living with my camera", but my wife says I can keep doing it. Ha.)

http://store.luminous-landscape.com/zen ... cts_id=173

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Postby Andy » Thu Aug 26, 2010 4:20 pm

The OP has stimulated some thought (hmn. using muscles I don't normally use -- might be sore tomorrow :lol: ) for me. I have written on my own blog about my own "mentors" telling me to "move in tighter," "get closer," with their critique of many of my images. I got from Brandt's comments the thought of trying to "put the viewer into the scene," rather than showing the viewer the scene from a distance. His comments on Carol's shots seem in line with my idea of a good photograph (although my own posted Waits River image is more the wider scene -- and on retrospect, the church steeple does suffer from the "static" centering, something I have often referred to as "bullseye" composition in my own critiquing). I do like the more intimate scene.

In the same light, I like a successful "grand landscape." But it is very difficult to do it well. I am not sure I can point to a single one of my own images that would qualify as such. I think what makes many of them successful is that "gesture" (I may have labeled it drama, in the past). I'll defer to Maisel as the master -- I now have a new phrase).

I also appreciate the comment about images happening by "accident." Its not -- as Brandt suggests -- truly accident in the normal sense of the word. It involves being in the right time at the right place but while knowing how to use the "gear" you have and how to expose and compose (the last being the area I most often feel inferior in). But some of the images I like the best involve nature "happening" around me when by wonderful accident, I have been there with my camera. I can think of many which have happened when I either wasn't ready or didn't have my camera, too.
Andy

If it sounds too good to be true, its probably . . . .

brandtb

Clarification

Postby brandtb » Thu Aug 26, 2010 7:48 pm

Just to be clear I don't recall using the word "accident"??- I don't think I would ever suggest great "images happen by accident" either. I used the word unplanned. Example. In my Blurb book there is an image of a cow in profile on a ridge with late sun rim-lighting it with a beautiful tree in the center. I had been shooting in one of my favorite places, finished up, and was on my way to another to finish out the day. In transit, I saw the cow off to my left (in a place where I had never seen anything interesting before), whipped the car around screeched to a halt pulled the tele/cam out turned it on basically didn't check any settings and shot... I was standing in a ditch precariously... got the barbed wire in the first few frames, climbed up to fence braced the cam. against post for two frames shot and that was it. Cow was gone, light was gone. This event was unplanned. I had no idea if it was good, I just shot literally from the hip. Got home and my wife said that is great...looks an Aelbert Cuyp painting. That was fine with me...and that was a wrap.

brandtb

More thoughts about that doggone cow!

Postby brandtb » Thu Aug 26, 2010 8:38 pm

I dont' remember exactly if this is how it happened because the whole experience lasted no more than 60 seconds. But I think the sky was blown out and with no contrast above the trees and to go wide would require bracketing a lot (or polarizer which I don't use) which there was no time for. I think I realized in a split second the wider shot wasn't going to happen and so I pulled in a little. Rim light from late afternoon sun on objects especially animals is really wonderful I think.
Michael Reichman, Jeff Schewe (Camera Raw tech. contributor and guru), and others who go on trips to Antartica and elsewhere...they always have some amazing wide images from their trips. They are quite inspirational. Some of Schewe's Iceberg Graveyard images are so beautiful imo - you can see them at link below - second slideshow from top.

http://www.schewephoto.com/Icebergs/

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Postby Andy » Fri Aug 27, 2010 3:12 pm

"Just to be clear I don't recall using the word "accident"??-"

Yeah. My bad. You did use the word "unplanned." Need to read before I speak :oops:

I read alot of Schewe's stuff (in fact, just ordered "Real World Camera RAW 6.0"). Surprisingly, I am not familiar with his photography. I'll have to look him up. Visit Michael Reichman's site regularly. Lots to learn from him!
Andy

If it sounds too good to be true, its probably . . . .



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