Saturday, June 11, 2005

Seeing Light

Seeing light. Yes Blair, that's exactly what it's all about. (click for the comment that prompted this)

When we are growing up and learning to make sense of our surroundings, for some reason most people seem to learn to look at the objects around them and see only the objects... as if reading about the objects or seeing objects as if they were symbols of their function... like words lined up on a page in front of them. For a really good basic grounding in this stuff, read the book "Drawing On the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards. When I read that many years ago, scales fell from my eyes. She explained to me why everybody else couldn't draw. What could be easier? Look at it and draw what you see. Most people need to be trained to do that because they have learned to make drawings that are symbols of the things they represent, rather than representations of what the eye sees. The way that most children draw has more to do with learning to read than learning to draw. "This is the way we draw a house... make a square... put another box up here for the chimney.. this curly-cue is the smoke coming from the chimney." This sort of drawing is destructive to artistic talent.

I have said many times that when I'm composing a photo or a painting, I'm not looking at the stuff around me... I'm quite literally looking at the light that is bouncing off of or coming through the stuff. It's the light that makes the picture, not the stuff. No light, no picture. Wait a few hours and the light will be all different and thus the picture will be all different... either better or worse. Look the stuff from the opposite side and the picture is completely different... better or worse... even though you are looking at the exact same stuff. Raise your head up a few inches or lower it a few inches... the stuff is all in different relationships. Why shoot everything from your normal eye level? What could be more limiting?

Most people have no concept of working a subject. If I see some neat light coming through some glassware in a store, I don't just take out the camera... point it at the glassware... push the button... and put the camera away thinking "what a nice shot". I shoot a picture... try to compose it a little tighter and shoot again... try angling the camera differently... try moving around from side to side... I'll shoot many, many different shots of that subject... working and refining... working and refining. Does each element add something to the composition? If not, can I move it out of the way?... or crop it out or move the camera till I can't see it? Working the subject... I can get really wrapped up in it. A couple of minutes later I'll think... "well... I've beat that to death... better move on". See the images below to see the process in my mother's kitchen that led to the shot of curtains posted earlier today.



Later I'll look at the photos in the comfort of my home and weed out the crap and save a few good shots... try different cropping... try making the shots a little lighter or darker... it's not done until I say it's done. The camera is stupid. It's just a computer program. You are the human being and only you know subjectively if it's too light or too dark... too blue or too yellow... too flat or too contrasty. There is no such objective reality.

UPDATE: Ann Althouse has more on this subject. Welcome Althouse and Instapundit readers!

15 comments:

Mike Lee said...

Not only are you a good photograper, but a good teacher. I believe you need to write a book...you are already publishing for free!

kenju said...

When you study art, you also learn that negative space around objects is as important as the object itself. My art teachers used to make us draw still life vignettes upside down, so we could learn to se the negative space.

Rick Lee said...

Yeah. I think that studying negative space is a good way to get people to shake themselves out of the habit of just focusing on OBJECTS. But personally, I don't do it because... this is going to sound silly but here goes... I don't believe in negative space. Everything is something. And every something in the picture will either add to or detract from the composition. Did that make sense?

Rick Lee said...

Mike... I'll have you know my blog is making a big fat TWO DOLLARS a day with Google ads. So you see... I'm not publishing for free... I'm raking it in buddy!

Kim said...

Two dollars a day with Google ads? Dang, I need to get going on my blog....

My grandfather, father and my oldest daughter are all artists - unfortunately it skipped my generation. I am in awe of those who have the inate ability to draw or those who take pictures that engage ALL the senses or evoke emotions. Which is a long-winded way of saying I love your photographs. This may have started as part of an Instalanche but I'm bookmarking the blog so I can enjoy it every day! : )

Rick Lee said...

Great to have you along for the ride Mistie. Welcome.

TallDave said...

Thanks for sharing, this will definitely help me take better pictures.

kenju said...

Rick, I get that in photography about negative space being something. It is in art too; that is why art teachers want people to focus on it sometimes, so that they'll realize it is as important as the subject in the photo or artwork itself.

Tim said...

All well-stated Nick. The funny thing for amateur me is when my wife downloads from the camera and finds !dozens! of shots of the same subject with a slightly different angle or exposure. Also I have a relatively cheap camera with lousy viewfinder so I take about five shots to get two in sharp focus.

Filled the card with this topic:

Droplets on Lamb's Ears

Rick, how did you decide upon the size of image you present here?

Rick Lee said...

Tim... if I post a photo larger than 400 pixels wide, the template will get all screwed up. So... most of the shots are around 300x400 pixels. It looks really small on my hi-res laptop screen, but on most computers it's large enough.

Rick Lee said...

I'll be in Lewisburg, WV all day tomorrow (Sunday) shooting tourist-enticing photos for the CVB. I doubt I'll have any Internet access there. Look for more photos tomorrow night.

Blair said...

Yes, I have read Betty Edwards... I come from artists, visual and non visual (meaning writers and poets... and while they are visual since one has to see to read... well, I hope you get the point.) To me a house is not just a box with a sun drawn in the corner... it can be anything... but enough about me and what I have read.

I attribute my low ability to a few things... 1) being selfish and enjoying the light with my eyes rather than a lens and 2)trying to figure out how I can get my digital camera to take a picture of what I am seeing... I took a picture of a cloud with silver lining... too much light... but then, I have yet to play with contrast and dark....
But you have a talent for light, it is beautiful, even your lettuce has great light.
When my Aunt paints she sees color in ways I can't, though I try... could be my color blindness I suppose...
Could it be that different folks have diffrent "sense" strength? My sense of smell and hearing is amazing in some ways, it is just to bad I can take a picture with them...
Oh, I had better stop my babble!
Love your pictures!

Rick Lee said...

Blair.. email me your picture of the cloud. I'd be curious to see if it's fixable "in post" as they say in the movie biz. (short for post-production)

Doctor Disgruntled said...

Hi - via Insty - I loved that book, also read it when I was young, and any ability at drawing I have whatsoever is because of that book.

(BTW there is such a thing as objective reality, we just may not be cognitively equipped to discern it).

Cheers,

DD

Blair said...

Just letting you know I have read your request for my picture of the cloud, just need to upload it and will do so...