May 20, 2018

Scarcity of Thinking



See … THINK … visualize … plan … compose … capture. This is how I go about capturing most of my photos. Sometimes more successful than others. But I continue to practice deliberately.

In his essay “Essay on the Principle of Population” in 1798, the English pastor and economist, Thomas Malthus discusses his principles of scarcity thinking. This made me think of the “Scarcity of Thinking”. Scarcity of thinking can be just as dangerous, maybe more dangerous, as it can apply to our present state of mind. It is a current threat. Scarcity thinking only applies to a possible future threat.

When it comes to scarcity of thinking, we must be careful, as this can limit our ability to think creatively to the extreme, or out of the box.

Scarcity of thinking is ever so often demonstrated by the masses, getting emotionally whipped without them understanding why they are demonstrating. The same applies to social media. If you look at some of the comments, you realize that the author of the comment did not rise to the level of the original discussion. They could not grasp it, or understand it. They just responded emotionally without thinking about their comments, or the subject under discussion.

Or the photographer just put the camera to the eye … and snap! Not seeing, not THINKING, not visualizing, not planning, or not composing.

And that is Scarcity of Thinking. And that is what we must be wary of!

The Use of the Diagonal Line in Photo Composition

Crit 0001 Carlene Ehlers Final

I received this photo on the left from Carlene Ehlers from South Africa. She has also submitted several other photos, which I will try to critique over time.

She saw the empty bottle in the crevice, realized the potential of the bottle to be of artistic value, and of course, took the photo.

Her question is: “How can I improve the photo”.

Before giving my comments, I want to stress that I endeavor to give an objective opinion. If you give the same photo, or photo opportunity, to the next person, the composition may be totally different, as well as the critique.

I am trying to keep the critique as simple and practical as possible.. The whole idea behind it, is that you as photographer can take the information, work with it, and try to apply it to your own photography in easy and practical steps.

In the illustration below you will find a red arrow (A) on the left and (B) on the right. They both represent the imaginary line the eye travels in the photo. Carlene made the right decision to compose the bottle diagonally. However, if you look at the red arrow A, you will see that the eye will enter the photo in the left parallel and exit in the right parallel. This illustrates that the original composition creates negative (unused) space in the bottom left and in the top right.

By rotating the camera so that the imaginary line (B) goes from bottom left to top right, the eye enters the photo bottom left and follows right through to the top right, therefore utilizing the full diagonal space.

If you compare the length of line A to the length of line B, you will also realize how much longer the eye remains in the photo.

By rotating the subject, the label is also repositioned in the top right intersect of the top 1/3 and the right 1/3 lines of composition. This is the strongest composition point to place your focal point. The label automatically becomes the center of focus.

I also created a subtle vignette on the edges to put more focus on the subject.

By applying one of the rules of composition (diagonal line), and a vignette, you can see how the impact of the photo has changed.

If you have any questions regarding the above, please do not hesitate to contact me. If you want to submit some of your own photos for critique, you are welcome to do so.

Crit 0001 Carlene Ehlers Final Copy

Submit your own photos for critique

I want to extend an open invitation to everyone who wants me to comment on the composition in their own photos to send it to me. It will then discuss on this blog-site. In the process we all will learn from it. Photos can be sent to Just a few rules, it must be family friendly, and by submitting the photos you grant permission that the material may be used for training purposes, digitally, in print or any other media.

Decisions on Composition

Decisions on Composition

Coronado Bridge Aerial View

Coronado Bridge Aerial View

This photo was recently shared on Facebook, and only afterwards I realized that it will serve as a great reference to illustrate the decision-making process in composition.

I think I have mentioned this before: The science of composition is a subject that can be studied, and anybody can learn how to apply the rules of composition to his/her own images in order to enhance it, and make it more pleasing and understandable to the viewer. A long sentence, but powerful content!

The bridge, with its natural curve served a triple purpose:

In the first place it forms the lead-in to the photograph. It leads the eye from the left bottom of the image, right through to the right, and then stretching into the upper half. Because the bridge goes from left to right, filling the width of the photo, there is very little negative space towards the right-hand side.

It is used to frame the photo at the bottom, and the right.

Most important, it is the main object. Everything evolves around the bridge. The more purpose a subject has, the stronger it becomes, and the more the eye will focus on it.

The city-scape in the background subconsciously becomes an object in itself, but sub-ordinate to the bridge. The bridge leads the viewer to the city. If I would have excluded the sky from the photo, the city would have become the background, and the bridge would just disappear in the background. Now the bridge fulfills a purpose by leading the eye to the city-scape.

In western culture, we read from left to right. Therefore the eye is trained to go from left to right. That is why the bridge is used to lead the eye from the left to the right, and up. If the bridge was flipped horizontally, i.e. lead-in from right to left, all the water would have formed a negative space. Now it is not.

The anchored sailboats, forming a diagonal line, forms an imaginary line, starting from the top left of the photo, and leading to the bridge.

The boat in the middle left, heading towards the bridge also tends to lead the eye in that direction. If the boat was going the opposite way, it would have had a negative impact on the composition by leading the eye from right to left, and away from the bridge.

The arch formed by the top of the helicopter’s dash (bottom right) replicates the arch of the bridge in the opposite direction, thus mimicking the flow. If it wasn’t there, there would have been a negative space.

By splitting the photo in three horizontal lines (water in the front, city in the middle, and sky at the top), a setting is created that is much more pleasing to the eye. People, by nature finds uneven numbers of objects more pleasing than even numbers.

Diagonal lines, parabolas, and horizontal lines were used to support the composition as a whole.

Submit your own photos for critique

I want to extend an open invitation to everyone who wants me to comment on the composition in their own photos to send it to me. It will then discuss on this blog-site. In the process we all will learn from it. Photos can be sent to Just a few rules, it must be family friendly, and by submitting the photos you grant permission that the material may be used for training purposes, digitally, in print or any other media.

The Recommended Color Space for Online Posting

The Recommended Color Space for Online Posting:

I saw a post in the Lightroom Help Group on Facebook where a person mentioned that there is a color differentiation from the photo on his computer to the photo he posts in Facebook.

This is normally the issue when you edit your photos in a different color space than Adobe sRGB, which is the recommended color space for posting your photos online. I must stress, don’t edit in sRGB, just post in sRGB. The color gamut in sRGB is much smaller as i.e. Adobe RGB, but sRGB is the only color space that can be handled by the Internet. Colors out of the sRGB gamut will just be lost.

I spent some time to find the best possible way to do the conversion from Adobe RGB to Adobe sRGB with the least amount of color change.


Top Image: sRGB conversion using Photoshop. Bottom Image: sRGB conversion using Lightroom.

I found the biggest color change happened when I converted directly from Lightroom.

The bottom section of the photo was done with the Lightroom conversion.

The least amount of color change takes place when I do the conversion via Photoshop using the following workflow:

When you open Photoshop (without opening any photos, change the color space to sRGB. This is done on the Mac by using the following shortcut keys: Shift+Command+K.

When the Color Settings open up, click on the RGB dropdown menu and select sRGB.

I also select the “Ask When Opening” options under “Profile Mismatches”, and “Missing Profiles”. This reminds me afterwards to change my color space back to Adobe RGB.

Open the photo(s) you want to convert.

Resize your photos. If you are interested, I can send you my Photoshop Resize Actions for a 1024 x 768 pixel, 72 p.p.i. (Landscape), and  768 pixel width portrait photo. These sizes are ideal for online posting.

“Seeing” as a Course Offering in the Photographic Curricula of U.S. Community Colleges

La Jolla Sunset


Seeing has been  realized as one of  the most  important aspects  in photography,  but has yet to be  taught as a subject in the photographic curricula of U.S. community colleges1,2.

In Pictorial Effect of Photography3, (1881) Henry Peach Robinson states: “The most obvious way of meeting with picturesque and beautiful subjects would be the possession of a knowledge of what is picturesque and beautiful; and this can only be attained by a careful study of the causes which produces these desirable qualities. He who studies the various effects and character of form, and light and shade … and examines and compares those characters and effects, and the manner in which they are combined and arranged, both in pictures and nature, will be better qualified to discover and enjoy scenery than he to whom this study has never appeared necessary, or who looks at nature alone, without having acquired any just principles of selection.” He further states: “Men usually see little of what is before their eyes, unless they are trained to use them in a special manner.”

And yet it is not taught as a subject at the majority of the community colleges. Why?

George de Wolfe says that “We begin as children seeing the world as a mystery.”4 As we grow up, we learn how to store what we see in the memory banks of our brain and to use it for future reference. If we do not teach ourselves to better our way of “seeing,” the world will remain a mystery.

As artists, photographers must learn how to compose (composition being the “advanced” form of “seeing”). They must not only understand the rules of composition, but they must also contemplate how the brain is going to translate what the human eye is seeing in their photographs. This can only be acquire by obtaining the knowledge through practice, research, and study.

Having an eye for composition is often referred to as a natural-born talent. In his book, Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates the World-Class Performers from Everybody Else5, Geoff Colvin comes to the conclusion that the one single element that differentiates exceptional performers from normal adults, is deliberate practice or deliberate effort to enhance performance in a specific field of expertise.

Mozart and Tiger Woods are often referred to as people with and enormous amount of natural talent. Both are considered to be child prodigies.

Mozart’s father was a composer, performer and a specialist in the field of teaching music to children. When Mozart was born, his father resigned all his other duties and focussed all his energy on teaching him (Mozart jr.) to become a composer. At the age of eight, Mozart produced his first compositions. His first works were cited as copies and imitations of other masters’ work. This shows that Mozart learned, like other people, by observing, copying and imitating the work of other Masters. At age 21 Mozart published his Piano Concerto No. 9. At age 21 he already had eighteen years of specialist musical training behind him.

Earl Woods, the father of Tiger Woods, had a life long passion for golf. When Tiger Woods was 7 months old, he received his first golf club from his father. From his high chair, Tiger had to watch his father hitting golf balls into a net in their garage. It was burnt into Tiger’s mind. Earl taught Tiger how to putt and grip his golf club even before he could talk. At age 2, Tiger started to practice and play at a golf course regularly. Since Tiger was four years old, his father started to hire specialist coaches and teachers to train him. When Tiger was admitted to the U.S. Walker Cup team at age 19, he already had 17 years of intensive training and practicing.

Seeing is to the photographer as what hearing is to the musician and hitting the ball is to the golfer. By deliberate practice Mozart and Tiger became masters in their various fields of expertise.

In his research, Professor K. Anders Ericsson, a professor of Psychology at Florida State University, and a pioneer in researching deliberate practice, found that how expert one becomes in his field of specialization, has more to do with how one practices, than with how hard, or how often one practices.6

How one practices is a skill to be learned. Why is it then that “Seeing,” which is such an important and integral part of photography, is so deliberately ignored as a subject at community colleges?

In the book, “Perception and Imaging: Photography – A Way of Seeing,”7 Richard D. Zakia is quoting Henry Thoreau in saying: “Many an object is not seen, though if falls within our range of visual ray, because it does not come within the range of our intellectual ray, i.e., we are not looking for it. So, in the largest sense, we find only the world we look for.” Our intellectual ray is defined as to have a greater understanding of what is being observed. If the student is not taught to understand what he is observing, he does not know where and how to look. Therefore the obvious will not necessarily be seen. If this is the case, the photographic student will miss out on a vast array of possible objects and compositions.

Observation is defined as the means to “describe existing situations using the five senses, providing a “written photograph” of the situation under study.”8 Can one be taught how to observe in the right manner? Yes, one can be taught. And this must most certainly form part of such a curriculum. E.H. Gombrich says: “We can only recognize what we know” while Teilhard de Chardin defines observation as: “The more one looks, the more one sees. And the more one sees, the better one knows where to look.” In the art environment observation can also be described as a “verbal attempt to describe a non-verbal experience.”9

Children tend to observe composition more quickly than adults. At some stage in the process of becoming an adult, one looses this ability. Adults have to be retrained to see composition within a frame.10

The great Bauhaus teacher of the 1920’s, Johannes Itten, told his students: “If you, unknowing, are able to create masterpieces in color, the unknowledge is your way. But if you are unable to create masterpieces in color out of your unknowledge, then you ought to look for knowledge.” This wisdom comes from the the beginning of the previous century, and still it is not applied in the field of “seeing” in photography in community colleges in the 21st century. Why?

In art and photography history lessons one can see how much emphasis the old masters placed on the mastering of the art of “seeing.” They grasped the importance. In class the importance of composition or “seeing” is pointed out, but not deliberately taught.

Vladimir Horowitz, on a less serious note said: “For me, the intellect is always the guide but not the goal of performance. Three things have to be coordinated and not one must stick out. Not too much intellect because it can become too scholastic. Not too much heart because it can become schmaltz. Not too much technique because you become a mechanic.” The importance of finding balance in composition, is therefore also important.

In 1881 Henry Peach Robinson deemed it necessary, and important, to write a book on “hints on composition …”. This book was deemed to be the authoritative manual of photography for many years to come. If he, as many other, grasped the importance, why is it that “seeing” is, after all these years, not taught as a subject in the photographic curriculum at the majority of community colleges?

This is certainly a subject for further investigation.

Works Cited

1Photography Associate's Degree Programs.” Education Portal. Education, 2013. Web. 15 May 2013.

2“Photography.” 2012 – 2013 Catalog. San Marcos: Palomar College, 2012. 236-38. 2012-2013Catalog-web.pdf. Palomar College, 2012. Web. 15 May 2013.

3Robinson, Henry Peach. “Chapter II.” Pictorial Effect in Photography: Being Hints on Composition and Chiaro-oscuro for Photographers. Philadelphia: E.L. Wilson, 1881. P. 6-7. Print.

4DeWolfe, George. “George DeWolfe Photography Contemplative Photography.” George DeWolfe Photography Contemplative Photography. George DeWolfe, 2008. Web. 23 May 2013.

5Colvin, Geoffrey. Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-class Performers from Everybody Else. New York: Portfolio, 2008. E-book.

6K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Romer. The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. Psychological Review 1993, Vol. 100. No. 3, 363-406.

7,9,10Zakia, Richard D. “Perception and Imaging: Photography – A Way of Seeing / Edition 3.” Barnes & Noble. Focal Press, n.d. Web. 15 May 2013.

8Kawulich, Barbara B. “Participant Observation as a Data Collection Method.” Forum: Qualitative Social Research. Institute for Qualitative Research, May 2005. Web. 15 May 2013.

Research Paper  by Francois  Swart


Black & White Photography: Converting your Photo


Rock Creek Lake | Photographer Francois Swart

Rock Creek Lake | Photographer Francois Swart

My first blog post for 2014! A new year and my quest for photographic excellence continues. My wish is that you will take the journey with me.

Black & White photos has a unique place in the art world, and also in photography. It allows more room for interpretation than the color photo.

Earlier today Kevin La Rue (V.P. Marketing for MacPhun Software) and I discussed black and white photography and the ways of converting your existing photos to black and white. I immediately decided that this is a good topic for discussion.

There are several ways to convert your image to black and white, but let’s first start with what NOT to do. NEVER capture your photo in black & white in camera. The color channels will be lost, and that will limit your ability to get the best possible black & white photo – and isn’t that what you want?

Not all photos will grant itself to black & white. When you capture the photo, you may visualize this phenomenal, mind blowing, black & white image. And when you look at it afterwards, you realize that you misjudged the opportunity completely. Maybe it is a great color image, but it is not the same in black & white. If you took the photo as black & white, you cannot convert it back to color afterwards (unless the photo was taken in RAW). The opposite is true for a color photo.

Another advantage of converting the color photo to black & white, is that all the color channels are still available for fine tuning. I.e. you can darken or lighten the blue sky by adjusting the blue channel, or dramatize the contrast in the clouds without effecting any other color (i.e. greens, reds, and yellows) in the photo.

How to evaluate a scene for a black and white photo is a subject to be discussed on its own, and I will get to that in a future post.

I randomly selected this image for conversion. I deliberately did not use Photoshop to do the black & white conversion, as the software is not readily available to everyone. In the stead, I used MacPhun Intensify Pro. It is quite powerful and is available at $59.99.

I have been testing it for some time now, and I must admit that I stand amazed at the possibilities.

It comes with a preset bundle, and then you can use the adjustments to tweak the settings to perfection. If you like the adjustments you made, you can save it as a new preset. How cool!

The photo was taken up above, from Rock Creek Road at Rock Creek Lake in the Inyo National Forest, Mammoth Lakes.


Take Your Photography to the Next Level: Camera Settings


Mala Boat Ramp in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii | Photographer Rene Swart / FC Schwartz Photography

Mala Boat Ramp in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii | Photographer Rene Swart / FC Schwartz Photography

Recently my wife and I had the opportunity to visit Maui in Hawaii. This photo of the old dilapidated pier was taken at the Mala boat ramp in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii.

The deteriorated and rusted ruins falling into decay just asked to be photographed.

It was a bright and sunny day and the photo could easily be overexposed. As can be witnessed in the photo on the left.

Bracketing was used to capture the photo, and I used the overexposed photo as an example what can be done if the maximum possible amount of data is recorded by the camera.

In digital photography, this is where everything starts. The collection of data in the camera. The camera doesn’t actually take a picture. It collects data and then converts the data into a picture. So, the more data is available, the more the camera can do to convert it into a picture.

If you take your pictures in RAW, as I do, the camera does not convert the data into a picture. The data is transferred from the camera to your editing device, normally your computer or laptop, where the conversion takes place via your conversion software (Lightroom, Capture One, etc.). Again, the more data your conversion software has available, the more detail can be extracted. I always stand amazed on how much data is hidden from the naked eye.

The method I use to capture my data in camera, produces an unflattering image. I know that beforehand. I am hesitant to show my RAW images as people may think I’m the worst photographer they ever met (maybe that is true).

In photography school they teach you to do it right in the camera. In the bygone film days it meant that you had to get the photo as picture perfect as possible. In the digital era it means that you have to capture the biggest amount of data to work with afterwards.

Once you understand this principle, you’re on your way to take great pictures!

Now for the crux. How do I set my camera?

  1.  RAW
  2. Color space: Adobe RGB. sRGB will give you a more vivid initial picture but with a smaller color gamut than Adobe RGB.
  3. NO in-camera contrast as this will also limit the amount of data (or detail) that can be recorded.
  4. NO in-camera image sharpening. I’ll do some initial sharpening during RAW conversion, but the bulk of sharpening is the last step in my workflow.
  5. I leave my white balance setting on auto. I find that, in about 95% of scenarios the camera’s interpretation of light is quite good. Because I shoot in RAW, I can always correct the white balance afterwards.

As a result of applying the above settings, enough data was available in the image on the left to produce the one on the right.

Even if you shoot in jpeg, you can apply the above principles. Just be more careful on the in-camera setting for white balance, as it is more difficult to correct a wrong light interpretation with your software when shooting jpeg.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further enquiries.

Night Photography: Get Rid of the Noise

Christmas on Knobhill | Photographer Francois Swart, FC Schwartz Photography

Christmas on Knobhill | Photographer Francois Swart, FC Schwartz Photography


This photo of Santa, and his beautiful Christmas tree was taken on Knobhill Road, San Marcos and is part of my Christmas Lights collection.

In general people find it difficult to take high quality photos at night. The big secret lies in the way you handle the light, and of course, the editing.

When it comes to the exposure, I make use of my in-camera histogram to make sure that I have captured as much data as possible in both the dark (left) and light (right) areas of the graph. I will discuss the interpretation of the histogram in a future blog.

When it comes to editing, it is important in night photography to first do your noise reduction before starting the editing process. If you don’t do that, all enhancements will also enhance the noise, as the editing software will interpret the noise as part of the detail in the photo.

Therefore, LESSON 1 in night photography, FIRST do the NOISE REDUCTION, THEN embark on the editing journey.

Good luck!

If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me!


Gone Fishin’

What attracted me to this night scene on the Ocean Side beach in San Diego was the abandoned chair. With nobody in site, it was the lead-in to an almost vertical line to the end of the pier.

The shore-line left to right, the line from right to left with the anchor poles penetrates the water surface and then the pier itself from left to right forms a an s-curf.

I just loved it!



Mind Your Head

While driving home from Old Town, San Diego, I decided to do some ‘plane spotting'. I went to this point near the San Diego airport where, as from what I have heard, the airplanes reach the lowest point over a building before landing. While the sun was setting I got this perfectly lit photo of a plane flying over a parking garage.

I used a tripod and the following camera settings: Aperture f6, Shutter Speed 1/500s, Manual Focus – because you only have a split of a second to focus and auto focus will be too slow, Matrix Metering, Exposure -1/3 (to compensate for the bright sky). Focal length for the lens: 28 mm.

To get the right composition was more tricky as I had to capture the photo with the airplane wing intersecting with the corners of the building! Had to do a couple of trial shots to get that right.