Advice from Trish!

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Hi Taylor Rae Harder!

littlebrownwren has sent you a message on Flickr.

Subject: Re: Your Feb. 7 blog posts
Date: February 18th, 2017

Hey Taylor
Ok, I’m back ๐Ÿ™‚ This is long-winded, but I hope you’ll find something you can use. 

First, the information Corla Rokachy shared with you was all good basic stuff that’ll help you get off to a fast start. I have absolutely no criticism of anything she said, whatever helps a new photographer start achieving success is good! You’re really lucky to have gotten all this from her personally right from the beginning. It’s so much easier to learn if someone is right there with you, instead of reading endless sources & trying to interpret it on your own with *much* trial & error. That can get discouraging sometimes ๐Ÿ™‚

I just have some general thoughts to share about these basic things everybody has to learn. Of course, all this is from my own experience/observations & so is my personal opinion ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m entirely self-taught, have never taken either art or photography classes & am most definitely not a professional photographer.

I guess I can repeat the 3 most obvious ideas… The first thing anyone starts with is learning their equipment, knowing what their specific camera can & cannot do. You’ll learn your camera as your technical skills increase. Hand-in-hand with this comes learning things specific to photography like ISO, shutter speed, etc. Begin with Auto & then start experimenting with Manual when you’re ready. Next, regardless of equipment, learn & start applying the basic principles that apply to all visual art — the same rules da Vinci used to paint are the same rules Annie Leibovitz uses.

I think the principle that underlies every shot is that of <u>purpose<u>: *Why* take this shot, what are you trying to convey? You termed it the “story” & that’s spot-on. This concept can have the greatest impact, ultimately it separates the technically competent from the inspired. After you’re comfortable with your level of technical skills, this is really going to affect your shots & will motivate your photography on to the next level. It’s that most elusive quality which creates the initial curiosity that draws the eye, what piques interest in even looking at a shot. I’m sure you’ve seen pics that were sort of confusing & made you wonder what on earth the photographer was taking a picture OF, what was the point of the shot? Their purpose is unclear. It’s like the random “snapshots” taken by tourists who are in a place for the very first time & are snapping away at anything & everything ๐Ÿ™‚ There are really two possible approaches to telling the story : The photographer chooses a certain quality about their subject, interprets it in the way they take the shot, & tries to convey what they see to the viewer. Or, you can deliberately leave the “story” completely up to the viewer, letting them create the story by leaving elements open to their interpretation. e.g., this picture is really nothing more than the image of a bare foot, but it immediately engages the viewer & makes them want to know more, & a story starts developing in their mind.

Composition ~ I interpret composition as a) the relationship between position of photographer to position of subject, & b) the overall relation of all elements in the shot to each other, all-inclusive, everything from shadows to the horizon line to a child’s face. There are some spontaneous & serendipitous shots that you have to get as fast as possible, hoping for the best & depending on your skills & post-processing to catch it. But especially when you’re starting out you’ll take your time with most shots & can be very deliberate : <b>Walk a circle all the way around your subject, maybe more than once at varying distances from center (which is your subject). Also try changing your viewing heights (this can even include laying on the ground or climbing up on something safe & stable).<b> As your position changes the subject changes, as does the light/shadow & foregrounds & backgrounds . This kind of “slow photography” is all about concentrated observation & really helps develop your “eye.” It’s a great way to learn not only about compositional elements, but how light (both shadows *and* reflections) impacts & changes the subject. This is the same concept Ms. Rokachy was getting at with changing the position of the figurine you initially practiced with. But sometimes you can’t reposition your subject — so you reposition yourself instead ๐Ÿ™‚

Another thing I’ve found intriguing (of course, I’ve been doing this for quite a while ๐Ÿ™‚ is to choose a stationary subject that’s in natural light & revisit it at intervals. You can do it in the course of one day, or throughout the year as the seasonal light changes — this changes both the way you see & the technical aspects of shooting it. Usually it’s outdoors which is a pretty chilly thing to do in Canada, but you could still do it over the warmer months. One specific thing I’ve done is shoot the shadow cast by north side of my house on both the summer & the winter solstices. I’ve also shot the same tree from the same spot at different seasons through the year. Indoor subjects are also good as long as there’s a lot of natural light from windows. After you’ve done this a few times with one subject, it’s really interesting to compare the shots.

Leading the eye around the photo by the rule of thirds, the Fibonacci spiral, & the golden ratio generally works to generate visual interest because the human brain is hardwired to seek patterns. It’s why asymmetry is more visually interesting, & is also why it’s suggested when doing still lifes of multiple objects you should use an odd number of objects. An arrangement of glass marbles or even M&M candies is great for experimenting with this ๐Ÿ™‚ Here’s a very good write-up from Digital Photography School about using the golden ratio But the rule of thirds etc doesn’t always have to be exact or even used, it’s just a general spacing guideline. Experiment with some simple still lifes & different post-process cropping (as opposed to live cropping/framing while taking shots); sometimes symmetrical centering can give a different feel (as in my M&M shot). Here’s a write up at Digital Photography Secrets that discusses deliberate centering. Learn the rules well, then you’ll be able to break them (attributed to Picasso, but who knows ๐Ÿ™‚ 

Cropping (both accidental & deliberate post-processing) of course is part of composition & framing.

Be aware of both backgrounds & foreground being too busy with details. Distracting details can be lessened by using depth of field (DoF), or spot-lighting & using shadows to your advantage.

<b>Use B&W to learn & practice composition.<b> You can see the major elements & shadows much more clearly & not be distracted by color.

If you enjoy classic art, look at the paintings of the masters for composition. Classical Greek sculpture reveals the same careful composing, albeit a little harder to see in 3D.

Framing ~ This is also a function of composition. Filling the frame is good if possible, but doesn’t always happen naturally. Judicious post-processing cropping helps tremendously, so when in doubt take a really big shot at high resolution. Some people might call this kind of cropping “cheating”, but it’s very useful because it teaches you what you *should* have seen with the original shot — if taking that shot was possible in the first place, & it’s not always possible. You can go back & try taking that same shot again & framing it more carefully, see if you can achieve it without any later processing.

Natural framing is great if there are already existing elements you can use (horizon, foliage, or structures). When there’s really no natural frame, you can create one by using DoF, spot lighting, shadows, color, artificial man-made elements. And you can always fall back on post-processing ๐Ÿ™‚ In this shot I took at a cemetery, I used both natural existing elements & post-processing to frame the gate, to get the slightly eerie feel I was after

Lighting ~ Natural light is how most people get started. Artificial light is more difficult because of its color spectrum that we can’t see – until it’s in a photo that brings it out, like yellow tones with incandescent & cold blue with fluorescent. Adjusting the white balance on your equipment compensates for these off colors. Regardless of light source, a good understanding of the interdependence of ISO & shutter speed is needed — you sacrifice one to gain in the other. Again, lighting is affected by the relationship between position of photographer to position of subject : <b>Walk all the way around noting the shadows, try changing your viewing heights, visit at different times of the day or seasons of the year.<b>

With low light (high ISO/slow shutter) that slow shutter will pick up every tiny camera movement, resulting in blurs. So always try to find a way to steady the camera — whether it’s resting your hand/body against something, propping the camera up on a bean bag on a stable surface & using a remote switch, or using various kinds of tripods. I’ve made my own bean bag using a mate-less sock filled with raw rice ๐Ÿ™‚

A basic lighting trick is using reflected light as “fill light” to help illuminate those parts of a shot that are hopelessly under-lit naturally. Reflectors are an indispensable tool with portrait photography (see this at Digital Photography School site ). But you don’t have to spend much money to play with this idea! You can use a piece of white foamboard to reflect light; it can be covered with aluminum foil for maximum reflectiveness.

One fun little project that’s very inexpensive is making a DIY light box/light tent for small still life shots (DPS again has a great explanation here;
& also a very popular tute to make one for practically nothing). This is what’s used for those beautiful shadow-less shots of commercial products against a seamless white (or colored) background. Since this is an indoor thing & doesn’t take up much room (can be fold-able & easily stored), it’s great for days when the weather isn’t cooperating & you’re stuck inside.

Another neat trick is using a flash diffuser to soften the harshness of the camera’s flash (again critical to portrait photography or any subject that’s very reflective). To play with how this works, cover your camera’s flash (if your LG has one) with a piece of white tissue paper.

Well, I’ve rambled on quite a bit & probably for too long. Since you’re taking a class you may already know all this stuff — in which case I hope I didn’t come across as talking down to you or anything like that! There’s no end to all the things you can discuss about photography ๐Ÿ™‚ The main thing is to just have fun with it! 


Hi Taylor Rae Harder!

littlebrownwren has sent you a message on Flickr.

Subject: Re: Your Feb. 7 blog posts
Date: February 19th, 2017

I’m glad to know that you might find anything I said to be useful, especially since I said so *much*, lol!! Not knowing how in-depth your photography class really is, I was a little hesitant about discussing concept/theory aspects; but I think they’re pretty important if you have personal interest in pursuing this. 

I hope I didn’t overwhelm you with too much information. Photography is exciting in its unlimited application, but has a steep learning curve at the beginning — but don’t let that discourage you! Break it down by section : gain some technical understanding & learn your equipment, then apply that knowledge a step at a time to composition, lighting, etc. I.e., you have to learn about ISO & shutter speed, then know the capability of your equipment with them, before you can start working on lighting in a competent way. Investigate/practice one thing at a time until you feel more comfortable. It’s all intertwined & as you get better at one thing, the next thing will be more apparent; then I think you’ll naturally start integrating the whole. 

Here’s an idea to play with — take some indoor still life shots in Auto mode letting the camera make all the decisions. When you examine them on your computer, note the major EXIF information such as aperture, ISO, shutter speed, & white balance (there will be a TON of crazy information, but stick with the most basic that I listed). That EXIF data (Exchangeable Image File Format) is a *goldmine*, the automatic log of exactly what happened mechanically with the camera in each shot. Use the Auto mode EXIF data to take the *same* shots again, duplicating one setting yourself in Manual mode. Then try manually changing that one setting just a tad & compare the results. This is a great way to familiarize yourself with your camera & get comfortable with Manual mode, & narrow your concentration on one aspect at a time so you don’t get swamped & overwhelmed with info (like I’m probably doing to you right now, lol!)

The one mantra every photographer will agree on is practice, practice, practice! With the digital age you’re no longer limited by the cost of film & developing, or the time it used to take between taking a shot & seeing the results. However, the flip side of that is don’t be indiscriminate : stick with purpose & deliberation with every shot you take, whether it’s half a dozen at a birthday party or 200 on a day-trip to a park.

If you need to document our communications on your blog for class purposes (as I seem to remember you mentioning), I understand & it’s ok.

I live in the state of Arkansas, just outside its capital city of Little Rock (yes, home of former President Bill Clinton & Hillary Clinton. The farthest north I’ve been is Chicago, which felt alien indeed to this Southern girl ๐Ÿ™‚ Hope you have a good Sunday.


2 thoughts on “Advice from Trish!

  1. Pingback: Photo-Experiment at Doc’s Town Church! | Taylor Harder's Teaching Blog

  2. Pingback: Photography Learning Summary & Final Reflections | Taylor Harder's Teaching Blog

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