January 22, 2018

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 photos@fcschwartz.com. 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.

“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 Portal.com, 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

 

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!

 

Spreckels Organ on the Pavilion, Balboa Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What an awesome experience we had in attending a concert on the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ at Balboa Park.

Furthermore, we were entertained by the highly qualified British born, dr. Carol Williams -America’s first woman Civic Organist.

We listened in awe to the incredible music flowing out of this instrument.  Just to be there and to experience a master playing the organ was so amazing. To us, this was really a “wow” moment.  We sat there with complete surrender and wished that it would never end.

What a privilege!!!

The organ weighs nearly 100,000 pounds and is protected by a 20,000 pound roll down steel door which seals the instrument from the outside elements when not in use. Wind power for its 4,518 pipes, comprising 73 ranks, is provided by a 20 HP blower located in the basement.

This organ was presented to the people of San Diego by John D. Spreckels with the intention to uplift, enrich and inspire the human spirit through the performance of great music.  In those days the instrument's powerful voices could be heard from a distance of 3 miles!

More photos can be viewed at http://www.fcschwartz.com/portfolio/index.php/Other-Photography/California/San-Diego/Balboa-Park. Then just click on ‘Spreckels Pavilion.'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Credits:

http://www.sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation/parks/balboa/spreckelsorgan.shtml

http://sosorgan.com/history/history1.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carol_Williams_(organist)

http://melcot.com/profile.html

http://www.sandiegohistory.org/bpbuildings/organ.htm

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!