Many beginning photographers have the ambition to improve their photography skills. At the same time there are too many opportunities: photography books, photography blogs, courses by photographers in their neighborhood, courses by or even trips with famous photographers, tutorials on youtube, websites etc.
Personally, I started with books recommended by Ken Rockwell on his website. I had to start somewhere. It actually turned out to be a good choice. I started with a book of Brenda Tharpe (Creative Nature & Outdoor Photography). By now I have read almost all books on his website. I have learned quite a lot, and also spent quite a few euros. To be honest, for me it was worth the money, however, not everybody has the means to do so.
Craft&Vision is a good alternative. It is a photographic education company initiated by David duChemin and his team of more than 20 famous photographers. Their manifesto is: “for the joy of creation and the love of the photograph”. They started with high quality, concise $5 eBooks. Easy to read on an iPad. By now, I collected quite a few of them. Just like I said, all of them are written by famous photographers, they cover a wide variety of topics, they are to-the-point, and they are cheap.
Nowadays, they have more products than just eBooks. They also have magazines and videos. I enjoyed listening to The Created Image Video, describing a journey of craftsmanship by David duChemin. Every time he mentions things that makes you aware there is still room of improvement in the way you take pictures.
I hope you will enjoy Craft&Vision as much as I do. On top you see a recently sold picture of Versailles. By reading a lot, I got more creative in composition and at the same time improved the technical quality of my pictures. Here you can see my pictures accepted by Dreamstime.
Henri Cartier-Bresson is a famous French street photographer and photojournalist. After recovering from black water fever he gave up painting and took up photography.
He used a small Leica camera with a 50mm lens which he covered with black tape to make it nearly invisible. He enjoyed submerging in a crowd and at the same time being ready to take a shot without being noticed by the people being photographed. He mainly took black and white pictures, and, surprise, surprise, he took no interest at all in printing his own pictures.
About his style he once said: “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.” (The Decisive Moment). He was continuously looking for the combination of a visual and dramatic highlight (see picture on top).
He traveled all over the world and participated in many historically important events where he took memorable pictures. For example, he took pictures of Mahatma Gandhi on his deathbed, after being shot during a protest against violence between Hindus and Muslims.
Although The Decisive Moment suggests that he always immediately took the right picture. This is not true. Henri Cartier-Bresson took a lot of pictures before capturing the highlights he had in mind.
Besides reading The Decisive Moment, I also enjoyed the two blogs of Eric Kim about Henri Cartier-Brenson:
Have you ever observed what your eyes are doing while looking at a picture? Do you observe a difference between looking at interesting and boring pictures?
A picture is nothing more than a flat representation of the 3D world in which no objects exist. It is pure colors, textures, shapes, and lines. So, the question is “what is a good composition that makes a picture attractive?” There is of course no simple answer, otherwise everybody would shoot perfect pictures all the time.
Bruce Percy wrote a nice book about that: Simplifying Composition, in which he explains how the eyes flow over a picture. Most people when they look at a picture they start between the bottom and the middle left and then explore the rest of the picture. It turns out that lines in the pictures may lead the eyes to different parts of the picture. Have a look at the picture below.
What in reality is a road is in the picture a line which takes my eyes from bottom left along the diagonal line to the middle right of the pictures; after that my eyes come back via the repetitive vertical lines (the trees on the left of the road) to the contrasting colors. Finally, my eyes travel again along the repetition of the vertical lines (the trees on the right of the road). This may repeat itself a couple of time, every time discovering more details. This makes a picture interesting.
Lines can be as simple a road, a horizon, a cloud formation, however, they can also be imaginary lines between areas with similar shapes or similar color, or a repetition in texture or shape. Of course, most of the time the lines are not straight, they are curves in various shapes. S-curves cause a strong pull. Think of an S-curve of a river.
Next time before taking a picture have a look at how your eyes flow over the scene to see how interesting it is. Maybe a different position or angle will improve it.
Recently I stepped down as chairman of a national research funding organization. As a farewell present I got books of Ansel Adams. So, now I have An Autobiography, The Making of 40 Photographs, and 400 Photographs. He was both an environmental activist and a photographer. He made beautiful black and white pictures of Yosemite National Park over a long period of time, so you could see the environmental changes. The picture that made him famous is Monolith, the Face of Half Dome.
In the seventies and eighties I spend in total one and a half year in California working for UC Santa Cruz and Stanford University. During these days I visited Yosemite National Park several times, hiked a lot in the valley and the upper park. It is a very beautiful area.
Imagine in the days of Ansel Adems he had to carry all the heavy stuff up the mountains. He could only take a limted number of photographic plates (pictures), so, he really had to make sure the picture would work out. Because of that he invented the zone-system to match the dynamic range of the subject he wanted to photograph and the limitations of the camera. The zone-system goes in 10 steps from pure black via different shades of gray to pure white. Nowadays the digital camera and the software handle the dynamic range quite well, although in some cases certain parts are completely white without any detail (or black). In that case the dynamic range of the camera is not sufficient for that particular situation. Again Ansel Adams could see that even before taking the picture.
Yosemite Park is still waiting for me 🙂
If people know you take a picture of them they pose. Their faces and body language are different than when pictures are taken by surprise. The ultimate goal of portrait photography is to make people look natural, as if they are not aware of the photographer. From my own experience I know this is not always easy.
The idea of street photography is to take pictures of people in there normal habitat, just being themselves. Most of the time these pictures tell a better story than regular portrait photography where everything is arranged.
However, there is one issue about street photography that I like to address: privacy. Is taking pictures of people in a public space without asking for permission an intrusion in their privacy. In a sense it is. At the same time it is regarded as art. Look at the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson or Vivian Maier of very nice black and white pictures taken out on the streets. In my opinion it is essential not to embarrass people with pictures in awkward positions.
Street photography is not always easy with a full frame camera with a long lens. Everybody will see you pointing with your camera. Taking away the unexpected moment. Vivian Maier always used a small compact camera hanging around her neck. Therefore her pictures capture all the emotions in a very natural way. They are really storytelling pictures. And Henri Cartier-Bresson is of course famous for his “The Decisive Moment” with the famous picture of a man just about to step in a puddle of water.
Here are some of my street pictures taken in China.