I am sure that each of us at some point in our youth, was given a coloring book and some crayons, and told to see if we could color within the lines. It takes discipline to stay between the lines and I am sure that lesson of discipline served all of us well in future life. Coloring between the lines, and creating with structure rather than randomly, is a part of the learning process of both art and life.
Eventually in some high school art class, we were given a piece of paper, sort of a metaphorical coloring book, and were told simply to create. Lines, no lines, it was up to us. The question then became, can we balance discipline with freedom.
There is nothing on this earth that I cherish more than freedom. Just the same, I found out long ago, that without a little self-discipline, freedom was only chaos. Freedom can be selfish and gratuitous without some personally imposed structure.
Vision, heart and soul, are managed by our discipline, but accomplished only by ignoring the lines, and coloring where the heart and soul take us. Photography is often symbolic of life for me, and this blending of order and control, with uncompromised freedom, is the essence of both photography and life.
Anybody who has read my writings on photography, or art in general, knows that I often criticize both those who stand to make photography a direct, accurate and complete copy of how they see life, with no compromise, and those artsy types who cannot find the art in an accurate (to the photographer) image of any particular subject, despite the fact that the accuracy may be part of the artistic pursuit of that image maker. Art, is in the mind of the creator, and what is or isn’t art, is only an opinion for any of us.
When I taught photography, I attempted to first teach the Xs and Os of exposure, composition etc., and then motivate and help the student to find their own voice. Learning how to make an acceptable picture (coloring between the lines), and then simply duplicating my (or anyone else’s) pictures over and over again, would not serve a viable purpose (as I saw it). Discipline without freedom, does not foster either discipline or freedom.
For some, structure (coloring inside the lines) is a very difficult thing to realize, while others find it almost impossible to color outside the lines. When you find the combination that not only suits you, but “is you”, you will have arrived.
The final step (my opinion) is to never stand still. As life changes you, your photography will surely change with it. Embrace those changes.
Is a straight forward image, of an abstract location, coloring between the lines, or disregarding those lines because of the subject? So many questions to ponder.
I generally made my personal travels to mostly nature locations and shied away from cities. That having been said, I was fortunate to visit the Old Quebec section of Quebec City, Canada once and it still reigns as one of my favorite cities ever. This Tim Martin image of an alleyway in that city caught my eye immediately. Both the producer of the artwork and photographer seem to exercise a great deal of discipline before coloring outside the lines.
Ron Bigelow created these next two floral images. As a subject, flowers lend themselves better (my opinion) to both in the line and out of the line thinking, than possibly any subject on earth.
Paul Adams is responsible for this beautiful and surreal creation. I have said many times before, that while I enjoy software creations, my favorite style (discipline?) of photographic abstractions are those created naturally with the imagination and skill of photographer, while in the field. The, “you have a good eye” concept will always fascinate me. I am not sure just how Paul created this picture but I do know there is some coloring out of the lines going on and I find the image visually intriguing.
Architecture with its obvious lines and borders, seems to be a subject that automatically requires coloring between the lines, but is it really? Gl Ponzetta made this image and sometimes I think it takes freedom and coloring outside the lines to recognize the photographic possibilities for a subject (the building) which has discipline and was created by staying between the lines.
I have always mixed the discipline of staying between the lines and the freedom of ignoring them. Below are a few examples of my images where I have painted over or around the lines.
Moving water, by the very nature of its fluidity, washes effortlessly over the lines. You can certainly make images of lakes, rivers and other subjects where you stay between the lines, and I often do that very thing. Just the same, I love the freedom that water, especially moving water provides.
The combination of moving water and color, provides the photographer with the ammunition to create dreamscapes of a sort. Beginning with the crispness of total depth of field and adequate shutter speeds (top two), to the surrealism of slow shutter speeds and limited depth of field, there are no boundaries (lines) that can stop you.
My favorite form of water is dew. It turns the mundane into the extraordinary.
Below we have some plant leaves, a sheet web, and believe it or not, a caterpillar. The only boundaries where dew is present, are those imposed by the actual subject that is wearing it.
Thermal steam and fog are water in their most evocative form. It goes where it wants. Unlike streams, lakes or even dew, it can float and drift. It first obscures, and then it reveals. It comes and it goes. It lives on its own terms. We are spectators who use our cameras for commentary.
The first two pix are of a Yellowstone N.P. thermal area, and the last is of the morning flog slowly revealing a snow-capped mountain in Wyoming.
As fluid as the above subjects are, ice is the opposite and just as inflexible and domineering. As the liquid water slowly turns solid, it makes many of the decisions that a photographer might make, for us. Just the same, when we decide what to leave in, what to leave out, that gives us an opportunity to create and color over any lines our left brain might attempt to dictate to us.
Plants like wild grasses, are open to many differing interpretations. If you were photographing the grasses below with me, you would undoubtedly make choices that differ from mine.
With my first picture, we have dew (again), and the light of the rising sun giving flavor to my image. The picture is fairly straight forward (within the lines?), but there was no end to the decisions that laid before me. I chose a straight up and down vertical composition that flattered the long grasses and the direction they were going.
Minimizing or maximizing depth of field is a way to get yourself beyond the lines of tradition and expectation. The great thing about working up close and in macro mode, is that even with an aperture of f 16, it keeps your field of focus just shallow enough to layer sharply in focus grasses over soft out of focus grasses. One more way to exercise my personal vision and color outside the lines of normality.
Living (photographically speaking) outside the lines does not automatically mean creating abstract photographs. Neither the flowers and old tree trunk image, or the autumn leaves and fallen trunk image, are abstract, but both are over the line. Unique ways of looking at nature, that are simply different from the norm, are by definition coloring over the line.
I’m not sure if there is a line when it comes to sand dunes, and late afternoon light. I did however watch a photographer at White Sands New Mexico struggle to attempt to find a way around the abstraction that was appearing in his viewfinder as the disappearing light created shadows. I chose to embrace those shadows but from what I saw, it may have been those other photographers who were actually the ones who painted outside the lines. That is, if our definition of staying within the line is using the great light and drama that nature was providing for me. This is a very straight forward abstract. If that is the case, I will happily accept the fact that I stayed within the lines for this image, and others that I made that afternoon.
We don’t usually think of animals of any sort as being the type of subject that should be taken over the line. I think it is fair to say that most of my wildlife or insect images are made pretty straight forward. I look for artistic poses and behavior from my subjects, and then I compose it, and share with the world what the real artists ( the animals) have provided me. Just the same, that doesn’t mean that we should never look for alternative ways to picture their behavior. From a sky full of Starlings, to a graceful slow shutter speed rendition of Tundra Swans, and on to a forest full of gnats, there are a thousand ways to tell a story. Some are inside the lines, and some definitely are not.
All subjects are waiting for your personal interpretation, and that certainly includes the handiwork of man. I rarely photograph architecture in a “between the lines” fashion. I often create piecemeal pictures that show what interests me at the time I make the image, and then sometimes build on that until the whole structure is shown. An old hay barn with light and shadows, a covered bridge, a 19th Century dairy barn, and an old lighthouse with the moon, display various amounts of coloring outside the lines.
Anyway you look at it, it is your choice (freedom?) when to stay between the lines and when to travel outside. Those “freedoms” are what makes photography special and personal.
Go out today and make your choices on when and where to let your crayon stray.
God Bless, Wayne