I made a comment on a photo in Facebook (something I rarely do anymore) the other day and the photographer thanked me and then messaged me about the photo, which was of a Mountain Goat. The photo was excellent, but he was shocked that I could (in my comment) guess the approximate (600mm) lens he used, and the fact that it was a crop. The tech quality was flawless so he could not understand how I knew it was a crop. After all, how could I know how far he was from the animal?
I explained that while I was indeed guessing, it was an educated guess. I knew it was minimal 500mm, probably 600, because of the visual compression between the goat and the background mountains. For that much background size, you would not only need a super telephoto, but if you were close to the goat (no crop), he would be frame filling. He was not quite that. I reasoned that the spatial relationship between the subject and its background, was too differing in its size. In other words, if it were not a crop, and the goat would have been this size in the picture frame, the mountains would have ceased to be mountains, but instead they would have been frame filling walls.
He replied wow, I must have really studied the photo and thought about it. I answered that I had thought about that picture and thousands of others long before I ever saw them. Before they were even created. I explained, that I had spent my whole adult life thinking about images, both those that were already made, and those that had not yet been created. Things like spatial relationships, point of focus, color contrasts, are all just a part of understanding the tools that exist to bring forth your own personal vision, when making a photograph. While my vision might vary from yours, those tools can be applied equally to yours or mine. Tools need not be made of steel, plastic and glass. Knowledge is a tool. Knowledge is the greatest tool. Just the same, knowledge without wisdom can be useless when making a picture, and dangerous in life.
“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers,…” Arpit Deomurari
Several years ago after giving a slide show, I was answering questions from the crowd. One questioner inquired whether I plotted and planned my pictures, or they happened spontaneously. I answered that they were often somewhere in-between, although most of my best images were pre-visualized and thought about hours, days and even as much as 20 years in advance of bringing them to fruition. Premeditation can be a tool.
Thinking about photography and imagining great images, is what any true photographer should do. When you do that, and you picture in your mind’s eye, all of the nuances of composition of subject in a finished image, that practice will aid you even when those serendipitous moments do occur. Bringing it all together is rarely an accident. Spontaneous art and well-developed tools can live together.
I just chose a few (handy) images to illustrate.
Wildlife photography fits the concept of premeditation just as much as landscapes. While it is true, that wild animals do not appear at your wish, and do not cooperate with your compositional desires, forethought, can indeed leave you at the ready when they appear wherever that may be, and behave however they wish.
I’ve written many times about composing wildlife images. Using the compositional tools such as thirds and power points, can bring your images alive. I’ve known great photographers who still place most of the wildlife they photograph, dead center in the picture frame. Sometimes that’s great, most often it “dulls down” a potentially great picture. After years of placing wildlife slightly off-center, and having much success selling stock, I developed a desire to leave more space to convey moods through ample negative space.
This image of a Red Fox was created in my mind long before I made the photo. When she turned her back to me, I knew the possibility of a sense of loneliness existed. Picture her seeing her grown babies leaving her to start their own lives. As I said, the idea and mood was born long before the situation presented itself with the animal……plus space.
Birds and other animals and their physical relationship to man-made objects, began interesting me in the late 1980s. One day as I photographed this Eastern Kingbird while it jumped around on this fence, my previous visions of mathematical divisions between living creatures an inanimate objects began to appear in my brain. Everything in a picture frame can be displayed in their relationship, be that mathematical or not, to everything else in that frame.
Telephoto lenses compress near and far objects onto one focal plane. They flatten the world out. I worked with that idea as it pertains to mountains a little bit in the 1970s when I lived near the mountains. My longest lens at the time was 200mm, and I was shooting non-cropable film. As time when on, I often used 700mm to create the landscape sandwiches I desired. I used 300mm (and digital) to bring this foreground hill and background mountain onto one single visual plane. The hill and the mountain however, were in different light. That is something I had not pre-visualized. Bringing something I had thought about years ago, and using the knowledge of lens compression, and a serendipitous moment I had not thought of, made a picture unique to me. Vision + spontaneity.
Using leading lines stretched out to fulfill a vision, or at least to take viewers on a journey, is a time-honored compositional tool. It’s not only for spectacular, grand landscapes. Frost covered logs point the viewers to a surreal thermal area in Yellowstone N. P. My pre-visualizations are usually far grander than what appears in this image, but my fore-knowledge of this technique, is always waiting for use. In other words, there is no grand landscape here but I did use a time-honored idea to tell a story.
Composing color, is really no different from spatial compositions done by the use of wide/short or long lenses. Placing warm and cool colors in a relationship that allows the viewer to perceive depth, is as old as painting. There were not a lot of decisions to make with this Utah land arch. Small shadows created by sidelight, also give us the impression of texture, which is really just another way of saying depth. My first landscapes and cityscapes, which were made shortly after I bought my first serious camera, already contained color compositions.
Hopefully there will always be room for straight on images of beautiful places. There is a time when we should recognize what’s in front of us, set up and shoot. Of course, before I was done with the seen below I used every lens I own up to 300mm, changed vantage points a dozen times, and looked at Amncon Falls, Wisconsin in every way I could. In the end, this was my favorite image. We may be visionaries but God is an even better one.
There’s a lot of visionary tools that are waiting for photographers to use. Knowing what can be accomplished with those tools, and thinking ahead to possible scenarios where you can apply them, leaves you ready to aim and fire when those special little moments just happen to occur.
Happy Trails, Wayne