Friday, 8 January 2016

Picture this

Looking at the majority of pictures taken by hobbyists, and reading the 'crit' they give I am always finding myself wondering if I'm on a different planet. The usual first port of call for comments are technical. Is it sharp, are the highlights blown. That sort of stuff. After that it's on to the rule of thirds, leading lines and all that jazz. Very rarely does anyone comment on what the picture is trying to say. I think this is because most hobbyists aren't concerned with their pictures doing anything beyond looking nice.

One 'rule' that I have mentioned on here before is that of simplification. When I simplify it's to stress the subject. To make a picture that says little more than 'look at this'. To that end I'm likely to put the subject slap bang in the middle of the frame. Something you must never do!

yet when I'm trying to tell a story I like to have a few elements in a picture that work with each other to provide context and explanation.

What started out as making a straightforward record shot of a hide because the sun was shining for a change, but which I thought I might have a use for among a collection of pictures on a theme of nature watching, got worked on.

Almost everything was in place to show the artificiality of the hide and the path leading to it. I'd made use of a framing element in the tree to the right and the bushes/hedge to the left added texture, the path being a visually leading element. As a composition it was OK.

A few steps along the patch and a shift of camera angle and the result was improved. The path draws the eye in better - the wooden rails intersect the edge of the picture away from the corner. More importantly the pool and reeds to the right are more prominent, so placing the hide in the landscape better. The composition works better and there are three things telling the story - the path, the hide and the pools/reedbeds. The light on the rails against the shaded ground beyond enhances their leading line effect. The colours are subdued but bright and harmonious. Best of all there's no wasted space. By not settling for the first shot I ended up with a picture that looks better and tells a stronger story. It's more useful as a picture.

All this is based not on the idea of making pretty pictures but of adopting a documentary approach. As something you might hang on your wall to brighten a room there's not a lot going for it. But as a picture to form part of a broader narrative it could well have its place. These days I'm always on the look out for pictures that can form part of a collection on my hard drive which I migt be able to pull together into something bigger at some point.

My current photographic obsession is my aversion to looking at wildlife through hide windows and the false perspective it gives to nature watching. Despite its transparency glass distances the viewer from the birds and the landscape. If that glass is in a spotting scope the distance between bird and viewer can not just be psychological it can be very real. Trying to put that across in a still image is a challenge. Knowing what you want to say is one thing. Saying it in a picture is quite another.

If there's one thing worse than a cold hide with letterbox windows it's one with comfy chairs and a picture window. Although I rail against the idea that 'it's all about the light' when it comes to photography, there are times when 'the light' makes you want to photograph it. Even if the result is a bit promotion brochure-y.

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