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Roger Hicks
05-27-2007, 04:58 PM
I think a good place to start when making a photograph is just by seeing.

Dear Ryan,

I see your argument, and agree. But as you say, there are no rules -- including yours or mine. I'd suggest that I am proposing a way of overcoming the inertia of seeing. You'd say it's a way of putting a barrier in the way. Much depends on the photographer, the subject, and even the camera (I 'see' differently with MP, M8 and Technika 13x18).

Cheers,

Roger

jstraw
05-27-2007, 05:48 PM
Are the 'rules' codified conventions that becomed aped by repitition or are they ways of describing what is observed to work in terms of putting the eye/brain into a zone of comfort?

I would argue that while they tend to become the former, they usually begin as the latter.

roteague
05-27-2007, 11:05 PM
First off, there are NO RULES when it comes to making art, so if your out photographing and find yourself wondering where you should put the horizon line in your picture and then you remember "OH! The rule of thirds!",

Try looking at your image on this site: http://photoinf.com/Golden_Mean/photo-adjuster.html. I think you will find your attached image follows the Golden Mean a lot closer than you realize.

I agree with Roger, however, I don't like refer to them as "rules", I would prefer to think of them as "principles". The "Rule of Thirds" is just one, there are others. Most of these have been known from ancient Greek times, and have stood the test of time, simply because it brings about order, which the human mind seems to crave. Just like without realizing it your image follows the Golden Mean.

Sparky
05-27-2007, 11:41 PM
that's just dumb. i'm not into astrology either.

User Removed
05-28-2007, 12:13 AM
Try looking at your image on this site: http://photoinf.com/Golden_Mean/photo-adjuster.html. I think you will find your attached image follows the Golden Mean a lot closer than you realize.

I agree with Roger, however, I don't like refer to them as "rules", I would prefer to think of them as "principles". The "Rule of Thirds" is just one, there are others. Most of these have been known from ancient Greek times, and have stood the test of time, simply because it brings about order, which the human mind seems to crave. Just like without realizing it your image follows the Golden Mean.

That is really quite interesting. I've never seen or even heard of the "golden mean", but according to the little lines it drew on my image, I guess it fits.

I will tell you why I settled on that exact composition, and it was not because of any rules. I think what originally caught my eye was the visual relationship between the circle and star, and the circle with the line, however after looking through the camera, I realized there was much more to the image then that. If I had moved the camera even 1mm down, I would have lost those three screws in the top right corner, along with the little 45 degree angle in that corner and cropping into the circle of the star. If I had moved the camera up a hair, I would have cropped into that hindge in the bottom left corner, and I did not want that. If the camera was pointed anymore to the right, I would have cropped that one screw that is right in the center of the image on the left edge of the print, and I did not want that. Moving the camera to the left would have removed the two shapes that exist in both the top and bottom right corners.

So, these are the reason of composition on why this picture had to be EXACTLY this. I was not being influence by any rules or golden means, but rather just the act of looking through the camera's ground glass and seeing what was there. With any scene, there is endless possiblities, but for me...this was the exact photograph I wanted to create.

MattKing
05-28-2007, 01:40 AM
This is going back to the depths of time for me, so apologies if I haven't remembered this correctly.

There are essentially two processes available to aid in developing rules - inductive, and deductive.

The inductive processes are the ones where you produce rules based on observations of recurring patterns. IMHO, all rules respecting composition are inductive in nature.

A rule formulated using induction is, paradoxically, both more useful, and less likely to be "true" than one arrived at by deduction. More useful, because it is likely to incorporate more observations, but less likely to be "true" because it is based more on likelihood, than observable certainties.

Matrix metering is essentially an inductive process.

There is a very large likelihood that if the composition of a photograph is satisfying, than it is consistent with other photographs that previously were deemed to be satisfying.

You don't have to be aware of the rules themselves, to be aware of the images that are consistent with them.

You probably do have to be aware of them, however, in order to effectively break them.

Matt

eddym
05-28-2007, 07:39 AM
Roger,

I think a good place to start when making a photograph is just by seeing. The reason I say seeing and not looking is because all to often a photographer is influence by that in which they already know and that in which they have already seen in the past. Therefore, when a photographer goes out looking for photographs, they are only looking for things in which they already know would make a good photograph. In a way, they are just reinforcing what they already know and possibly only recreating what they have already done.
Very good point. There is a totally different mindset involved in "looking for photographs" and "seeing." The former reinforces preconceptions. The latter stimulates creativity.

jstraw
05-28-2007, 10:33 AM
Matt speaks eloquently about the nature of 'rules.' His post and Ryan's description of making a photograph that's consistent with a 'rule' while not being aware of it, are what I was trying to get at earlier.

Early Riser
05-30-2007, 05:29 PM
Attached is an example of a recent photograph I made from my Boneyard series.

Ryan McIntosh
www.RyanMcIntosh.net (http://www.RyanMcIntosh.net)

Ryan, nice image, however I think it does have a subject, actually two, the star is a prominent element as is the black seam.

Subtle is very hard to pull off and I think that that is why so many people take note of the lack of a subject in a photo, they are searching for something in the image to hang their hat on. And most of the time a subject less image does not work for them.

I only have one image that has no subject in it, and it is an image that works well only large. I do not have it on my web site nor do i have it posted here because it simply looks like a mess unless it's large enough to see detail.

User Removed
05-30-2007, 06:16 PM
Your right. Although not very obvious at first, that image I posted does have someone of a focal point.

This was a topic I was exploring a few months ago when I started creating images from a Littlerock, AR yearbook. Visually, the image explored the idea how a photograph can have somewhat the "all over" texture appearance, but still contain a focal point. There was also an unlying concept behind these images that was created by the placement and construction of the photograph.

Attached is an example.

Richard Boutwell
05-31-2007, 12:40 AM
I think it is crucial first to recognize what the intention of the photograph is before talking about the importance of a clearly defined subject. If the goal is a successful commercial photograph, then yes, there should be an obvious subject, but it might benefit having a not-so-simple design (of course that is all dependant on the companies brand and so forth). If, however, we are talking about photographs as art then I think it is all very personal, and there are only opinions and preferences about the subject. Though I do think it is important to understand what is meant when something is considered a "subtle photograph".

Subtly in photographs doesn't always have to mean something without a strong sense of obvious composition. It could be like some of the first "all over" photographs by Frederick Sommer-- the Arizona Landscapes of the 1940's-- which paved the way for many of the "all-over" photographs that followed. Or subtlety could mean Callahan's weeds in the snow, or the weeds against the sky. In terms of color, the early work of Joel Meyerowitz is a prime example of success with the use of a subtle pallet (even though I don't agree, it could be said though that is that due to the available materials he was using at the time). Alternatively, subtlety in photographs could be like Jeff Wall's work where the references from art history that influence and inform the work are usually subtle or obscure.

One of my favorite photographs at the moment is by Robert Adams of his wife pulling stickers out of their dog's feet. It is plate eight in A Portrait in Landscapes. At first glance, it seems like a simple snapshot. But, when I looked closer and noticed the trees and variation of land near the edges of the frame, I saw that the simplicity of the subject was successful because it was supported by the subtle placements on the edges.

Personally, I prefer photographs that are subtle-- whether it is in terms of the subject, contrast, composition or pallet. For me, there is something about the photographs that don't beat you over the head that lend themselves to be appreciated more over time.

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Richard Boutwell
05-31-2007, 01:12 AM
that's just dumb. i'm not into astrology either.

I couldn't agree more.

It is true that if you take many of the "Masterpieces" of art, and apply these mathematical principles, many will exhibit properties of the Golden Mean-- just as do the tonal frequencies on the harmonic scale. But that does not mean that you have something that is any more, or less, beautiful, only something that is un-necessarily substantiated scientifically.

As HBC said in the introduction to the Decisive Moment, "In applying the Golden Rule the only pair of compasses at the photographers disposal is his own pair of eyes."

AND

"I hope we will never see the day when photo shops sell little schema grills to clamp onto our view finders; and that the Golden Rule will never be etched on our ground glass."

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Richard Boutwell
05-31-2007, 01:28 AM
Therefore, when a photographer goes out looking for photographs, they are only looking for things in which they already know would make a good photograph. In a way, they are just reinforcing what they already know and possibly only recreating what they have already done.

If one just goes out seeing what is around them, not letting any rules or past ideas about things influence their vision, they will discover something that is completely new and visually different from that in which they have done in the past.

This is exactly what Michael A. Smith says when he prefaces what will be taught over the course of the "Vision and Technique Workshop."

From what I have seen from workshop participants, the ones that were able to let go of their preconceptions are the ones that have started to create really meaningful work. Not because they were given any secrets for composition, but because they picked up something that gave them the confidence to trust their own discoveries and allowed them to work confidently from a more personal place.

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Struan Gray
05-31-2007, 04:02 AM
Richard, it's a pleasure to find another admirer of Sommers' Arizona landscapes. Meatyard's landscapes and zen twigs evoke similar feelings for me, but it's a style that seems to have mostly explored by painters. Sommers' cacti could come straight out of Mondrian's early seascapes, and I have an abiding fascination with 50s all-over abstract painting, particularly the quieter, more spiritual paintings of Mark Tobey.

In colour, Misrach seems to be the photographer who has most successfully incorporated Cape Light's palette and style into his work.

I think of it as avoiding 'Lego' colours, although lately Lego have been producing a lot of bricks in an odd secondary spectrum of hues so perhaps I need to find a new name.

A lot of this sort of subtlety works best in a well-made book, or in private, domestic settings where contemplation and regular re-viewing are more likely. It also is easily destroyed by poor reproduction, or by a change of scale, which is good news for APUG-ers since it argues strongly for ownership of an original work, and not dissemination as an online meme.

juan
05-31-2007, 07:25 AM
I'm bothered by the idea that many have (camera club judges, for instance) that a photograph has to have as its subject a physical object - a tree, for instance. I find myself photographing the relationship between things - the spaces, the textures, the reflective values, etc., much of which is lost on a lot of viewers. Oh, well, I'm right and they're wrong.

Good to see you posting on this topic, Richard.
juan

Richard Boutwell
05-31-2007, 10:26 AM
Thanks Juan. I aggree that some of the idea here are lost on many people, but in the end you can only shrug and find solice in the idea that you are not making pictures for them, but for yourself.

Saying that you photograph relationships is a great way to sum up your visual instrests. In one of the incarnations of my artist statement I wrote that I am interested in relationships-- not only the visual relationships within the frame, but also the the personal, historical and societal relationships of what is within the frame.

Struam, I am glad that you mentioned Richard Misrach. Misrach's Brovo 20 was the first book of color photographs I ever purchased. I spent more money than I could afford on it, but there was somehting about the work that screamed at me to buy it. Another color photographery book that is an excelent example of the power of subtle photographs is The Painters Pool by Jem Southam. I couldn't wrap my brain around the work for more than a month, but now I love the book and am exhauseted after every time I look through it.
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darinwc
05-31-2007, 05:52 PM
Thanks everyone for your input so far. I hope this thread continues on for a while as i enjoy reading different views.

"Subtly in photographs doesn't always have to mean something without a strong sense of obvious composition." - Richard Boutwell
Thanks for mentioning that, Richard. If we take the definition of a strong composition (as in bold, not necessarily good), and take the opposite of the elements, do we get the elements of a subtle composition?
Strong - Subtle
Full tonal range - limited tonal range
Prominant focal point - no focal point or focal point not prominent
Saturated color - muted color
definate fore/mid/back-ground - flat / 2-dimentional

So... I think it will be fun to look at some examples given and consider the composition. Looking at which of these breaks the normal rules and why they are still good artisticly.

Richard Boutwell
05-31-2007, 06:08 PM
I looked quickly through my website to see what would be considered subtle under your posted criteria.

Here are three. I am interested in what people think of the pictures' degrees of subtlety.

http://www.richardboutwell.com/UserImages/2/10199/1/9696_mediumlarger.jpg

http://www.richardboutwell.com/UserImages/2/10199/2/10951_mediumlarger.jpg

http://www.richardboutwell.com/UserImages/2/10199/1/7604_mediumlarger.jpg

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Mike Lopez
05-31-2007, 07:49 PM
Richard, I was just admiring your third picture this morning. I like it.

Ed Sukach
05-31-2007, 11:06 PM
It would be simpler IF ....

I don't think there is any logical (Note 1) way of defining a hard and fast, concrete rule as far as "subtility" is concerened.

I've been musing over the criteria necessary for defining a "successful" piece of art... and so far the only concensus I've been able to determine is, "It either WORKS, or it doesn't WORK."
That word, "Work" is really a cop-out ... I think it is difficult to describe just what is meant by that ... but it seems to be understood through a wide area of Art and among Artists.

I have seen, and produced photographs that "work"... and I can't really limit them to either "Lots of Impact" or "Subtle".
But then ... I have NO idea of what specific characteristics make something "work", or NOT "work".

Note 1 ... "Logic"? Is there any place for "logic" in art? Isn't "aesthtic" really an antonym of "logical"?