Posted on February 28, 2016
The very talented and creative photo blogger Sue Judd accepted to host today’s challenge at Lost in Translation which made me very happy and honoured. Sue came up with the theme “negative space” and if you read the article bellow, you’ll know what she meant.
Negative space (sometimes referred to as white space) is the space in your image that does not contain your main subject (the positive space). It might be clear space with no detail or almost none, perhaps predominantly black or white, or it might be a blurred background that contrasts with your (in focus) subject. Negative space is perhaps the single most important aspect that helps the subject in your work – the element of interest – stand out and attract the viewer’s attention.
When used properly, it will provide natural balance against the positive space in a scene, drawing our eye to the main subject and providing breathing space, something we don’t have if the image is too cluttered. The thing is, we don’t ‘see’ negative space naturally, we are too intent on concentrating on our subject. But it tends to help if you keep the composition as simple as possible. So how to achieve this?
In these first two examples, I have positioned my subjects in front of plain backgrounds – the negative space here is ’empty’, there is no detail to distract from the main subject.
Tulip bowing out
Another way to create negative space is to use a wide aperture, thus throwing your background out of focus.
School yourself to see negative space…patches of open sky, large areas of shadow, the blur of a wide aperture, the compression of objects in your frame created by using a long lens. But bear in mind that negative space does have it’s own visual ‘weight’….try to balance the elements, and beware of too much emptiness…you want to draw attention to your subject, not lose it completely!
Hopefully, these examples will spur you on to create your own efforts. Above all, have some fun!
Posted on January 28, 2016
Tobias M. Shiel today’s guest and photo challenger at Lost in Translation invited us to apply the concept of organised noise to photography.
In his inspiring post, Tobias elaborates the idea and gives us some very useful pointers as to how to approach this theme.
Here is my response:
Please join Tobias with this challenging theme and leave links and tags #Guestchallenge, #ThursdaysSpecial, #organised noise.
Please have a look at the entries of the participating bloggers by clicking on the titles bellow:
Posted on May 28, 2015
Finally! I get to present this challenge. It’s no fault of Paula’s, she asked me to guest post a long time ago. I just haven’t been able to make time to commit to this opportunity, and I’ve really been looking forward to doing it. In fact, I hope that this is the first of two of these posts. Thank you Paula.
This challenge-slash-tutorial is about storytelling with photography. I’m sure that you’ve heard many highly successful photographers place emphasis on being able to reach others by using photographic skills to convey a story. Whether it’s with a series of pictures, such as a photo essay or even harder, with a single image, we can’t reach anyone without effectively conveying a story. Although there’s a long list of photographers who have proven to be exceptionally gifted at this, it is definitely easier said than done. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be a challenge now would it?
In this challenge we’re going to make the effort as easy as possible by shooting in colour. That’s not to say that storytelling through colour photography is easy, it’s just a little easier than doing it through monochrome photography.
What’s the usual way we try to tell real or imaginary stories through photography? We rely on the usual physical and technological techniques that pretty much everybody has heard or read about by now. Things like:
Careful equipment selection;
Use of talented models;
Use of filters and other accessories;
Carefully selected natural or artificial lighting or shade;
Cropping and post-production editing; etc.
Good. Hang on to those dearly. You’re still going to need them. As useful as they are; however, they only get us partway to our goal of making a mental impact on others. You’ll have to apply them with other more sensatory considerations; aesthetics and emotion. Get ready to apply those to whatever type of photography you prefer to express yourself with.
Portrait photography; you probably don’t want your shots of someone’s likeness to be flat and emotionless by having them stand before your lens looking straight into it blankly or with some artificially induced reaction. You look at the work of Steve McCurry and Annie Liebovits and instantly recognize how they naturally captivate you. There before you are profound glimpses of personalities coming at you from a two-dimensional medium. It’s amazing. A personality could be saying my story is that I am someone’s grandmother, and I have survived war, extreme hunger and malnutrition since the age of five. One maybe saying, I just graduated from high school, and I’ll soon be leaving home for the first time to start university.
Street photography, rural photography and photojournalism; oh yes, those of us who engage in these genres and field itch to capture those personalities but also more. We try to convey the importance or significance of the circumstances that those personalities are subject to at specific moments in time. We do this in order to make statements about communities or society at large. It’s not enough to photograph just anyone walking down a street; we’re trying so hard to show how a subject and what’s going on in their environment reveals a way of life somewhere near or far. A story could be why some seventeen year-old drug dealer brandishes his 9 mm Glock with the cockiness of a seasoned gangster. The story might instead be how people can be so comfortable doing personal things in public that a man is willing to nonchalantly floss his teeth in a restaurant, in full view of other patrons.
Urban and landscape photography; you’re driving along a highway in Colorado when suddenly, snowcapped mountains glistening in the evening sun seem to rise up on both sides of you and scrape the threshold of outer space. The light and colours are so perfect that you need to stop, grab your camera, jump out of your car and quickly compose a shot because you are determined to show everyone back home how you know that you have experienced God’s power out there in the great frontier. Ansel Adam’s landscape work is so incredible because he had an ever so strong passion for nature and conservation. He was also a humanitarian. You may be familiar with his landscape work but have you seen the portraits he published in “Born Free and Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese-Americans?” It’s so eerie; downright uncomfortable, to see the happy, smiling faces of people being forced to live in fear. Perhaps there’s a long abandoned and dilapidated baseball stadium that’s been in your town since 1901, and you have the chance to go in and feel the nostalgia that has gone unrecognized for decades before the city has a demolition contractor blow it to bits. You want to make every old time baseball lover sense the ghosts of the now unlit stadium through your imagery.
Wildlife photography; you’ve spent all week in some African national park waiting to see some interesting creature. Just before your time is up, you spot a lion brazenly stalking an adult male giraffe. Knowing that this is truly undocumented behavior, you stick around long enough to record how the giraffe makes one kick with a hind leg and drops the powerful lion motionless in the dirt. A viewer will connect more with an image depicting natural animal behaviour than a picture of a beautiful animal just looking beautiful.
Sports and action photography; at a local shiai, you get to show how a skinny 14 year-old sparred valiantly in her last a 5-point karate match. A crowd of parents begin to protest loudly, and you zoom in on the young girl’s face as tears start to flow down her cheeks the moment she realizes that she will lose no matter what she does. With the spectators crying foul, she just found out that one of the referees is the father of the other girl she’s up against. It has just come to light that he and the judges, who are his friends, don’t run this tournament fair and square.
Regardless of what type of photography you shoot, see the possibilities. Know what you must strive for.
How do you do it? Allow yourself to feel. I mean really feel. That’s the challenge.
Try to identify with the circumstances in front of your lens. Whether in favor of it or against it try to moralize it or politicize it in your mind. Try to appreciate the humor in it or the adventure, wonder or even horror of it.
Most will agree that drama is something to keep out of your life but in order to make a photograph have power to move others, you’re going to have to let yourself get a just little bit emotional and shoot under such conditions.
By nature, our species is an emotional one. At times overly so but although the world today is pushing to turn everyone into completely logical Star Trek Vulcans, we can still benefit from many emotional experiences. It remains an important means of communicating to and relating with each other. Make images that speak to others emotions.
Take on this challenge, and let’s see what happens to your full colour photography.
Later, we’ll try storytelling again but in black and white, and I’ll break it down in a more systematic fashion.
The Nice Policeman
World Cup Win
People have responded to this guest challenge:
Posted on April 30, 2015
The Venetian Gondola
The shiny, sleek keel-less vessels navigating the winding waterways of Venice, might not be the choice of transport of its diminished local population any longer, but they remain the most familiar visual identifiers of the city. Cliched symbols inextricably linked to its cultural identity. Perhaps more universally recognised than its monumental components.
While a selfie on a romantic cruise is a mandatory ‘must do’ on most Venice itineraries, few tourists are aware of the gondola’s history or the symbolism inherent in its design.
The earliest known ancestors of the present gondole were large, multi-oared boats with little ornamentation. By the fifteenth century they shrank considerably in size, acquiring vibrant awnings, ornate seating and plush upholstery. Within a century, they evolved into sleeker, sumptuous and colourful showpieces of wealthy aristocrats, until a 17th century egalitarian Doge’s edict decreed the uniform black enamel and the precise dimensions of 10.87m by 1.42 m. The only change since has been the lengthening of the left side by 24cm to counterbalance the gondoliers weight and rowing action. This late 19th century refinement gives the craft its characteristic list along with its current fluidity of motion.
Each gondola assembled from 280 components is handcrafted from eight types of natural wood. Each is fitted to individual gondoliers, with unique and detachable rowlocks – forcola – carved to the gondoliers personal specifications. And each incorporates visual metaphors in its elegant design embellishments.
The sinuous shape of the heavy iron prow the ferro di prora, is said to mimic the Grand Canal itself. Its distinctive blade, the Doge’s cap. The six prongs (rebbi) beneath, depict the six sestieri (neighbourhoods), and the lone prong opposite (risso di poopa), the island of Giudecca. The other iconic symbol of the city, the Rialto bridge, is represented by the tiny arch between the ‘cap’ and the prongs!
With the number of vessels plying the canals down to a few hundred from some 10,000 at the end of the 16th century, and just three squeri (shipwright) working overtime to replace aged craft, this most beautiful boat in the world faces the risk of fading into the pages of history. Regardless of the fact that it only ferries tourists today, Venice would not be Venice without its gondole.
Especially written for Paula’s Thursday Special challenge – Symbolism. I am honoured to be hosting today’s challenge…..thank you very much Paula!
Posted on February 26, 2015
Last August I made an unplanned visit to Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland. I was in the area, visiting St. Mary’s Lighthouse at Whitley Bay. I knew of the gardens at the Hall, but nothing of the house, so when I saw on the signpost that it was barely 2 miles away, curiosity won. The huge shell of a house that I found astounded me.
It was, by and large, shrouded in scaffolding, and entry looked improbable, if not a little uninviting. Still, the National Trust signboard proclaimed that it was open. Entry was via the gardens at the rear of the house and there was an hour till closing time. Clouds were gathering overhead, so into the garden I went.
Delights were in store
Thronging the borders
And beaming handsomely
There is topiary, parterres, a rose garden, fountains, pools and statues within the 3 acres of this garden. Anyone who loves gardens will find something here to admire, but what drew me like a magnet was the lily pond, with its gurgling frog. It was surrounded by blue agapanthus, with a tantalising view of the house beyond.
The perfection of a water lily
A path led through the grounds and I was distracted by the sight of a substantial chapel. A volunteer was keen to share the history and I learnt that it dated back to Norman times. Family crests adorned the walls. There was obviously much to learn but, mindful of time, I picked up a leaflet and headed towards the house.
The Norman chapel
Seaton Delaval Hall is Grade 1 listed and was designed in 1718 by Sir John Vanbrugh, the architect of Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard. Like many of our English homes, it has a patchy history. The Delavals were loyal supporters of William the Conqueror, and were gifted the land for their services at the Battle of Hastings. Admiral George Delaval made his fortune in the Navy, and bought the estate from his bankrupt cousin in the 1700s. When he asked Vanbrugh to help him modernise, he was advised to demolish all but the Norman chapel. The Admiral had grandiose ideas, and wanted a turret from which to view the ocean on each corner of his home.
Neither patron nor architect lived to see its completion. In 1728, two years after the death of the Admiral in a riding accident, the mansion was completed and his nephew, Francis, moved in. The ‘gay Delavals’ brought high good times, and not a little scandal, to the house, but they also exploited the estate’s natural resources. Salt, coal and glass were produced, and a dock was created for export from the local harbour.
Tragedy struck in 1822, when the Hall was gutted by fire, thought to have been caused by jackdaws nesting in the chimney. For forty years the building was without a roof, until local architect John Dobson was hired to shore it up. Internally it remained a shell, the 30 ft high great hall still showing the effects of fire, with blackened walls and muses in the lofty niches.
Further partial restorations took place down the years until finally the National Trust were approached. After fourteen months of fundraising, they received the keys in December 2009.
Over the garden wall
I could not bring myself to take photos of the scaffolding entrapping the house. But when I stepped inside, I was staggered at the height of the Great Hall. A guide explained about the ongoing work and a little of the family history.
There’s a ghost story, of course, and tales of military occupation and potential ruin. The house has enormous presence and I found myself willing it to be made whole again, just like the model.
In writing this piece, I returned to the Seaton Delaval website, and was delighted to see the scaffolding removed. The stucco statues are restored, high in their niches and the tiled floor immaculate once more. You can imagine, I’m keen to go back there in the Spring. The work is a long way from finished. The National Trust have ambitious plans for this property, and many others within their care.
I’m writing this post for Paula, with the theme of Restoration, for Thursday’s Special. Do you have a restored property that you would like to share, or maybe one that’s in need of love and attention? I would be delighted to see it. When I return to Seaton Delaval Hall, I shall certainly be sharing it with you. Opening times and full details of the project are within the links.
It just remains to thank Paula for letting me play hostess, or should I say ‘lady of the manor’?
Entries to this challenge are:
Posted on February 8, 2015
“The art of photography is all about directing the attention of the viewer.”
This week, I’m delighted to be writing a guest post for Paula’s Black & White Sunday Challenge.
I love black and white photography, and for many reasons. I’m a big fan of street photography; due to the brilliant works of some of the greats such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Gary Winogrand, and the recently discovered Vivian Maier, black and white and street photography go hand in hand in my mind. Going monochrome can, in my view, add anonymity for the subjects and increase atmosphere. For me the most important point about monochrome is that by removing the distraction of colour, the photographer is able to direct the viewer to the key elements of the image. Going monochrome is one of several tools we have as a photographer that allows us to provide focus.
To illustrate, here’s a couple of monochrome edits of two structures in La Defense, a business area in Paris.
Now, here is the original – the eye can’t help but look at the colours, rather than the shapes. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I wanted people to take note of the curves and the juxtaposition of shapes, not the redness of the arch.
This doesn’t apply only to architecture; in the scene below, the thing that caught my eye was the way the shapes of the two men preoccupied with their phones echoed the shape of the metallic sculpture in the foreground. In the colour version the eye is dragged too quickly to the bright buses, whereas I wanted to highlight the shapes.
In the shot below, on the much-photographed Millennium Bridge over the Thames, I opted for a high contrast black and white image to highlight the balance of shapes: the lone person below and the bustle of people above.
I hope my musings have inspired you to post your own monochrome masterpiece.
“Black and white are the colors of photography. To me they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected.”
Steven Pinker – b 1954, Canada, experimental psychologist and author, specialising in visual cognition and psycho-linguistics.
Robert Frank – b. 1924, USA, photographer and documentary filmmaker – his most notable works the 1958 book, The Americans.
Here are the responses to this guest challenge: