Aesthetics vs Technique

This past weekend I got to participate, along with thousands of others, in a great photography workshop hosted by creativeLIVE and David duChemin. The event was free to watch live, which is a great opportunity and something that I am greatly thankful of. To the folks at creativeLIVE and Chase Jarvis Inc, a big thank you for all that you are giving back to photography through this.

The workshop was centered around “Vision” and was focused more on developing vision than technique. Some may see this as a short coming but, asking “what does it look like” instead of “what does it do”, there is a growing population of photographers who are more concerned with vision and the aesthetics of a picture than with the technique behind it.

Don’t get me wrong, good technique is important, but in the end a great picture requires much more than just technique. I tend to be a little on the analytical side of things and in photography this sometimes hinders vision. I will go out on a photo walk and not take any pictures because in my head I’m analyzing my shots and deciding that they are no good before I have even pressed the shutter. I was challenged this to leave that behind me and to go out and allow my vision to be stretched through photographing something I may have mentally deemed worthless.

Sketch images, images that seemingly don’t fit into your final goal, will allow you to better define what that goal is and how to get to it. They give you the grace to fail, and they give you the opportunity to train your ability and your vision. You don’t just pick up your camera, press the shutter and bam! have an amazing picture, it takes developing and practice to train your vision and craft. Take sketch images and review them, through this you will begin to see things that you like and that look good and things that don’t. Use them to develop your skills and you will begin to see things in new ways, and therefore you will photograph them in new ways as well. A good exercise for this is to go to a place you have not explored or maybe have overlooked, and then photograph everything you see. You can also pick a color or object and photography everything that somehow relates to that subject.

The point of vision is that we are working on the aesthetics of the picture, not the technique. “The most valuable tool we have is our creativity” and if we allow that to be controlled by technique we will soon be shooting things that no one will want to look at.

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4th of July

This year I got to photograph my first 4th of July celebration. Having really started developing my photography while living in Russia, I did not have very many occasions to go out and photograph fireworks. That is not to say that there weren’t any, it just wasn’t on my radar of things to capture. Now that I am living back in the U.S. I took the opportunity this year to experiment.

I saw a few articles talking about how to shoot fireworks. Things like, set your shutter speed to “bulb” use something around an f/9 value things like that. So I did some reading, then set out.

It was quite fun and a learning experience at the same time. I was learning when to push and release the shutter in order to capture the best shot. Some exposures were longer capturing more detail and depth of the explosion while others were shorter just snapping a small frame in time.

I had a lot of fun playing around with this, kinda makes me want to go out and buy fireworks just to try and take more pictures of them. I’m already thinking about making a light box and using an out of frame sparkler to create some cool effects on a subject.

The sky as canvas

As you are creating a picture you must choose your canvas, and that canvas (background) is the whole setting for the picture you will take. The canvas can be anything from the background of the scene, a studio backdrop, or just a bokeh’ed background depending on the type of shot you are trying to capture.

As much of my works puts me outside with natural light I have always been a fan of the sky as a canvas. It really is a beautiful thing to capture.

The other morning my wife and I were walking and watching as the sky began to illuminate with the morning sun. I had taken my camera with me (since you never know what you will come across) and was able to capture some of the beauty that was unfolding in front of us.

This scene caught me with all the lines. They aren’t so much “leading lines” such as railroad tracks or fence posts, as you would normally look for, but rather they are somewhat sporadic and chaotic. But that was the beauty of the scene, all these seemingly random lines (clouds, power lines, grass shoots) joining in the image to allow your eye to roam around and take it all in.

Lines can be a wonderful thing to add depth to an image, they also can be used to lead the viewer’s eye to where you want it to go. Scott Bourne gives this tip, “If you’re in a photographic rut, start looking for lines. There are lines everywhere and they make great compositional elements.” (Photofocus)

Lines are everywhere, and therefore can easily be incorporated into your photography. This picture was taken in Arlington National Cemetery.

The key is in making the lines fit into your frame and subject matter. Taking pictures of lines for the sake of having lines will not necessarily work well, the scene quickly becomes too random and the viewer easily looses focus on the subject of the picture. To keep this from happening make sure that all your lines are relevant to leading the viewer’s eye to the subject or they in no way distract from the subject but rather enhance the subject.

No matter what type of photography you are into, you will come across lines, it is your choice whether to incorporate them or not.