Photographic observation

Discussion in 'Photographic Aesthetics and Composition' started by cliveh, Feb 6, 2014.

  1. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    I sometimes talk to painters and people who sketch and find their craft often means more to them than observation of what they see. They sometimes dismiss photographers as merely snappers, but I would suggest that a dedicated photographer has a more observant vision than those who dedicate their observance to interpretation through their craft. Am I talking crap, or do some understand what I’m trying to say?
     
  2. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    You got it right.
     
  3. snapguy

    snapguy Member

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    ho hum

    How many painters, sketchers are there in the world? How many dedicated photographers are there on this globe and in orbit? To presume to make a sweeping statement about these millions of very different individuals appears to be rather shallow. What about a painter-sketcher-photographer? What about photographer-authors and painter-poets? How about painter-rocket scientists and photographer-janitors? How about Cartier-Bresson who expressed the idea, late in his life, that photography was just fooling around and painting was the real deal?
     
  4. Tom1956

    Tom1956 Inactive

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    If there was photography 2000 years ago, we'd know what Jesus looked like. And who really knows what George Washington looked like? Not from painters, to be sure. I've seen Martin Luther King statues all over creation, and none of them looked like him. Only a camera can show the way it really was.
     
  5. eddie

    eddie Subscriber

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    Isn't a photographer interpreting through his craft?
     
  6. momus

    momus Member

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    I started w/ painting, drawing, & printing and came to photography later. For drawing, you pay a lot more attention to your subject because you have to. But photography obviously requires skill and a good eye, and if you do your own developing and printing you have to learn the craft aspect. Photography is pretty much left brained, drawing and painting are right brained, and printing is left side too. This is not engraved in stone, but it's what I see.

    Photography, I mean GOOD B&W photography, is much harder than I ever imagined. To get an image that "pops" is not that easy! I'd say that I get one of those about every 250 to 500 frames, if I'm lucky. Sometimes, when the wind is right, I can get two good drawings/sketches in a day. Different stuff from one end to the other. The time between seeing your image in the camera's viewfinder and getting a print can seem like ages, unlike drawing/painting, where you see the image develop in front of your eyes, w/ constant changes all along the way. W/ a B&W neg you had better nail it from the get go.
     
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  7. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    Not yet mentioned but one way photographers have to be more observant is with regard to things we DON'T want in the image. We have to look at the whole subject and everything behind it and consider that before making a photo. We can obsess over it or simply find a style keeping to seek things we capture simple without distraction. People who paint/draw can just ignore what they are not interested in including or didn't observe.

    I think many painters would say you are talking crap for saying their craft is more important than their observation. That's metaphorically painting them with a pretty wide brush.
     
  8. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    I would disagree. I think B&W photography is very right brained. The left brain stuff like measuring light and predicting depth of field is so mundane it's almost brainless to me, and processing film is no different than doing dishes or laundry. For me the craft can become second nature if you take a break from film/paper testing and just pick a materials combination and stick with it. The real challenge is the right brain stuff like translating mood onto film, composition, context, abstraction, soft/sharp choices, learning from photo/art history.
     
  9. dorff

    dorff Member

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    The "seeing" part of photography is distinctly "right-brained" in the figurative sense. But since the initial division of brains into left and right hemispheres, our understanding has also progressed a bit, and today the view is not that straightforward regarding left/right. Photography draws on a range of human qualities, skills and emotions. In that sense a claim for either left or right seems to underestimate the complexity of the medium, and undermines its place in the broader perspective of arts and crafts, and human endeavour in general. In fact, I cannot think of a reason to categorise photography into right-brain activity or other, apart from having a left-brain obsession over categorising things. If that made any sense.
     
  10. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    The creation of a photograph does not stop with the click of the shutter. I think that people who are not photographers fail to realize this fact. Several great photographers used devices like the camera obscura. Did this make them in anyway less of an artist?
     
  11. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    Good thing photographers never have that problem, huh? :smile:

    -NT
     
  12. Darkroom317

    Darkroom317 Member

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    Painting taught me to observe even more as a photographer. Although, I will say that contemporary painters have an obsession about mark making as how the paint is put down on the surface. My instructors would always tell me to not go back over a mark once I had made it. However, the retinal painting studies that I did made in Painting I and color studies made me see far more in the world around me as far as color and form. Every medium I have worked in has had an influence on me.
     
  13. Heinz

    Heinz Subscriber

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    This is an interesting thread in my opinion. I also do both - painting / sketching and photography. I feel that both benefit from each other even if they are different.
    For me producing a photography is in some aspects similar to producing a painting - at least if the painting is done in front of the scene. In both cases placing the objects in a balanced (or purposely unbalanced) composition by changing ones own position and the placement of the different objects inside the image borders is crucial. But in a painting one has more freedom to accentuate the different things like one sees and feels them. In both, painting and photography, unconscious decisions take place - however in photography they are quick actions and one does not realize them directly - while during painting this is the thing which constitutes the main fun for me: how the painting is formed on the paper 'by itself' without thinking too much.
    Maybe I can illustrate this with two examples: I recently sketched two images quickly with felt pens: one in front of a night scene and one of some old tires in the wood - and today I got the slide film back from development with the photos I made of theses scenes too. I find it interesting that for the night scene the painting is much more different to the photo - the painting representing more truly how I saw and felt the scene.

    paint_comp_2.jpg

    paint_comp_1.jpg
     
  14. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    What I find interesting is that the felt pen sketch of the tyres is almost a negative version of the photograph.
     
  15. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    In my humble opinion photographers would be a lot better served if they stopped naval gazing and worrying how their craft was the poor relation of Fine Art, (which there seems to so much anxiety about on this and other photography forums), and just concentrated on shooting the best pictures they are capable of.
     
  16. Heinz

    Heinz Subscriber

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    That is indeed an interesting observation, Clive! I had not noticed this and it makes me think about the fact that in sketching (in particular the quick way one does it with felt pens) a number of elements are not depicted as photorealistic image but instead more as a "written sign" - somehow like we identify the "smiley" sign with a face even though it is not more than some lines and dots. Considering photography there are also cases in which such an abstraction takes place - e.g. for silhouettes in backlight. I wonder if I should try to track this idea by producing more photos which consciously use different ways of "sign like" abstraction.
     
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  17. mdarnton

    mdarnton Member

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    Though I appreciate the discussion of the concept (and is see so little of this type of discussion on forums, so I'm delighted to see it here), there's such a range of quality and ability of the people in both fields that making the type of generalization that was proposed seem a bit like trying to decide what color is a shirt.

    I suspect, however, that the very best people in virtually any field are the ones who are the most observant, and that this cuts across everything from drawing and photography to things like farming and selling shoes.
     
  18. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    You are correct, I did make generalisation for which I apologise, but it was merely to provoke discussion on the topic. I will try and word any future thread starters more carefully.
     
  19. Alan Klein

    Alan Klein Member

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    I think your post shows just how difficult photography is. Both photos are basically just snaps with poor lighting and poor composition. But in your "mind's eye" you were able to see the true light and content and paint it as it would have been if the lighting conditions and perspectives were better. With a camera, the photos fail.

    The painter is blessed with a blank canvas. He only puts in the things he wants in the way that will make it aesthetically pleasing and/or to accentutate the content. The photographer starts with a full canvas containing all sorts of things he has to get rid of and force perspective, lighting and other issues to eliminate the things that detract. A more difficult process.

    By the way , I like your sketches.
     
  20. Alan Klein

    Alan Klein Member

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    Another thing about your sketches and photos is that they create a learning experience for all of us. And that is how balance and "rules" of composition apply to painting and photos.

    In your building picture, the right negative area was eliminated in your sketch. The tree was inserted in a more balanced position against the weight of the dome. One can see the "rule of thirds" at work.

    Likewise in the tire shots, the negative space on the bottom and right were cropped out in your sketch something I could have done with the photos as well to make them better. It created a pleasing balance in the shot.

    There's a lot photographers can learn from painters about composition, balance, content, lighting etc. Yesterday while waiting in a doctor's office, I was looking through their magazines in the waiting room. Some were painting art related. I was impressed by how so much of what photographers should learn come from the experiences of painters.
     
  21. Heinz

    Heinz Subscriber

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    Alan, thank you for your very interesting comments. They led me to a few more thoughts on the photos:

    Indeed their composition could be improved by cropping according to the sketches - I showed here the full frames. For the night photo I even put together (digitally, but this might be allowed here for a discussion-example) a mosaic of the left slide taken in portrait orientation and the right one taken in landscape orientation - the latter one a little bit blurred by shaking (not visible in the small size here) - at least the night photos were taken mainly with the idea to compare them later to the sketch - I stabilized the camera by pressing it to a lamp pole and used something around 1/8 sec at f/2.8 if I remember correctly.

    The lighting in both scenes was difficult for slide film - and this gets worse by scanning (on the lighttable I can see better colors and more shadow detail). However I notice that I saw much more lucent blue in the real life night scene - I think I will try tungsten balanced slide film for future night photos. I have some Fujichrome 64 T in 120 format in the fridge - some of these rolls I bought in the APUG classifieds :smile: If I read this correctly it will result in a more blue night-sky and it may have also rendered the roof of the dome more blue. The sketch helps here to see how 'incorrect' these colors were imaged by the daylight balanced slide film - as compared to the direct visual impression.

    Thanks again, for your helpful comments!
    I hope my thoughts on the comparison of the photos and the sketches are interesting not only for these specific images but also in a more general way...
    Heinz
     
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  22. ak.5447

    ak.5447 Member

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    I know a painter or two who automatically take very compelling photos without knowing a single thing about operating a camera or photographic theory. In many ways it's the same thing (doesn't apply to post-modern / abstract art).
    At least a couple of the best, most famous photographers started life as painters. Bresson, Winogrand, to name a couple. Recreating by hand what you see in the world takes an incredible amount of observation. If you haven't done that exercise you should, it's been enlightening the few times I've dabbled in it. Start with a pencil and paper and just do a dirty sketch!

    Disclaimer - I am neither a painter nor a photographer :D


    Edit: in the last couple of weeks while I was on leave I watched this vid (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtcD84l9eUw) and that inspired me to go visit a bunch of art museums and study photos and paintings. It hasn't translated into visual skill yet lol but it has been a great experience.
     
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  23. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    It is all about composition. My parents dragged me though the Washington DC and Baltimore area art museums for years. Some of that and studying art history helped me learn about composition.
     
  24. Jaf-Photo

    Jaf-Photo Member

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    I made a slightly related observationthe other day as I was looking at a wall of framed vintage photographs in a restaurant.

    They all had very formal compositions, very similar to that in classical paintings.

    Clearly, the photographers of old were aware of how you build a picture.

    Today, most photos are a bit happy-snappy. Even those of famous photographers.

    So, I can see were the criticism comes from, even if it's not justified in my opinion.