Monday, April 26, 2010

Book Review - Learning to See Creatively

I was quite fortunate that just as I was starting the 10 part series on Great Photography Projects, Amphoto Books contacted me through Random House and asked if I would be willing to review one of their books. (see disclaimer at bottom)

Since I am a big fan of books, especially picture books, this was a no brainier.  I selected the book, ‘Learning to see Creatively’ which I thought would tie nicely in after the last series of those project articles.

Book title:  Learning to See Creatively – revised edition
Design, Color &; Composition in Photography
Author: Bryan Petterson
160 pages – soft cover
ISBN 0-8174-4181-6

The first task with any Photo book, especially one that discusses design and composition, is to determine if it has a good repertoire of excellent images. That is what I thought when I made my first scan through the pages. The images made me want to stop and check out the pages. This is what a good photo book should do.

My wife had the same feelings when she leafed through and commented how great the photos were.

I will briefly describe the focus of each chapter and what I think is the level of skill needed for the reader. At the end I will give a summary and my rating.

As the book’s author states “This is not a book about metering for the right exposure or setting the right f-stop and shutter speeds…. This is a book about ideas” but he does provide the lens and camera settings for each image taken.

Expanding Your Vision
This chapter examines how various lens categories such as; normal 50mm, wide-angle, full-frame fisheye, street zooms, telephoto and macro each affect how the subject and backgrounds interact at the various focal lengths.

There is no design formulae on when to use a lens, not sure there really is one, but the author does discuss when and where to use these variety of lens and provides examples why he selected a lens for his images.

Elements of Design
As the title indicates, this chapter deals with the compositional elements such as lines, shape, form, texture, pattern and colour to assist the photographer in creating striking images. While this is basic material, the author provides good images to help convey a compositional element.  Also as a benefit in this chapter and all the others the author uses several framing versions of the same subject to demonstrate how a design element in one of the variants of the subject makes image compositionally stronger.

This chapter discusses techniques, such as ensuring the Subject Fills the Frame, Rule of Thirds, Odd Number and Preference for 3, Horizon, The Right Third, Diagonals, Frame Within a Frame, Horizontal Format vs. Vertical.

It also examines that there may a better picture within a picture, working your subject and as always breaking the rules.

The Magic of Light
In some ways it is true that light is magic and the author shows us how the same scenes can go from ordinary to stunning by just waiting for the right light, not time of day, but the way the subject, foreground and background are lit.

Digital Photography
This is the only section that I had some difficulty with. First, as with most things electronic, certain information becomes very dated very quickly. I believe keeping the technical specs and comparisons to the weekly or monthly media format because in a book, in just a few years some of the comments may almost seem ludicrous. He also focuses on 4 very rudimentary digital editing but not in the traditional darkroom styles (dodging, burning, contrast).

The author has taken many great images almost exclusively with film and I believe this chapter would be better if he focused on the differences and similarities between the mediums, ie: Positive film behaves more like a digital camera, the merits of medium and large format cameras, HDR to exceed the dynamic range of even B&W film, sticking to increase actual file size. 

Career Considerations
This section is very limited in content.  Very basic and mainly limited to ensuring you can adapt to change and having a fresh portfolio to address trends.

Introduction and Index are also included.

The Digital and Career sections fall really short even for the most basic of needs.
Otherwise the book is very well written and have a good use of images to demonstrates key points.

The author does suggest 4 specific exercises to help you see differently with your camera and lens and for novices these would be good opportunities to explore.

Taking more photos is really the only method to get better.

Overall I enjoyed the book. The fact that the author uses 2 or more compositions of the same locations really helps to demonstrate the key element being discussed.

The photos are great and I would think that readers at any level would find some images that inspire you to try new approaches or subjects. 

Best Audience – novice, maybe progressing to DSLR type camera (as better control of shutter speed and aperture is needed to achieve the author’s results, who wants to improve the success rate with WOW images or is thinking about entering photography competitions and who has not already taken any photography design courses before.

My Rating   3.75 out of 5
While 2 chapters are weak, they are not really needed to cover the theme of book.

I enjoyed reading the book.

The list price is $25.95US and $32.0 CDN.  This book can be purchased new for under $18US on web sites and this is the price I use to factor the rating.

The rating is established for the targeted audience and is not meant for the more experienced photographers.

I have not received any monies or other favours, other than receiving this book, as a result of this review for either of the 2 companies or their affiliates.

The book is being donated to the Camera Club of Ottawa, of which I am a member.

Niels Henriksen

Friday, April 9, 2010

10 Great Photography Projects – The Assortment or Grab Bag List

This is the last article in the series of 10 great photography projects. This final article is not so much a project but a list of challenges that can be project-like if approached with the intent of learning about photography, skills and the art of seeing.

Photography should be a life long passion of constant learning and exploration. If you are continually doing the same types if photo styles such just walking around and capturing interesting images then your learning opportunities quickly diminish.

With the previous articles I hope that you may have found a challenge or interest that you might choose in the hopes of pursuing something new. If not I hope this list may find more interest with you.

The key to growth is just to keep doing what you are doing and at the same time to always have opportunity (challenges) for growth.

I have several photography projects underway this year, first and foremost is SoFoMoBo that kicks off in June. Challenging but definitely rewarding.

Next, and this project derives itself from sitting too long in a spot (backyard patio) and getting strange ideas, is about the scenery around you. Just over the hedge are 4 birch trees that always seem to get my attention. I have decided to do a year long study of those 4 birch trees in all light, seasonal weather and other climatic changes. All the same in framing but each at a different time. Then select 12, not necessarily monthly, photos to convey a time story of these trees.

Taken with the setting sun hitting the left face only

This image, viewed on the computer, may not seem more than a bunch of fine squiggly lines. The final image (12,000x9,000 pixels) is a composite of many more detailed images such as the photo below shows. The section is from the birch tree just right of centre and going up the left wavy branch to where the branches start. When printed full size, if I ever decide to make this set, they would be approx 4 ft by 3 ft'. This is a very good size to observe all the fine details.

I will also be looking into a collaborative photo book production, not with photos but the written word. This one may slip into next year.

A List of Ideas

Tell a Story in 10 or 'X' number of photos
If its true that a photo is worth a 1,000 words then 10 photos should make a story, at the very least a short story.

With only 10 or any number photos, but ideally the number should be decided before you start, develop a story that viewers can take away by just observing the set of images. No titles or any descriptions to give the thread away. Ask viewers to describe, in a sentence or two, their thoughts or feelings they have about the set of photos.

Web – Blog Project Contests
The web is full of many interesting nooks and crannies and in some of these corners there are great opportunities to challenge yourself and even measure your skills against others. They are not prefect but each site seems to have its own preferred tastes.
DPChallenge has about a dozen challenges a month. Some are free and some are closed to paying members.

Fred Miranda runs both weekly and monthly challenges.

Digital Photography School (DPS) while not only being a great provider of photography related information also runs numerous challenges and weekend projects.

Epic Edits by Brian Auer is another wonderful resource blog has run challenges.

Life and Learning through the Lens by Darwin Wiggett has run several photo contests and takes the time to display daily on blog the entries with a photographer's description.

PhotographyBB runs monthly assignments as well as providing and in-depth monthly e-magazine. has 4-week themes and monthly challenges.

I spent an hour photographing a potted Hydrangea plant with a zoom and a macro lens. In this image, I like the full range of tones from blue through to magenta and how they seem to be gently floating.

Several Images of macro Hydrangea plants were combined into Photoshop and by adjusting the blend mode of layers and sometimes inverting the colours...very unique patterns emerge.
Collage and overlays

If you have the use of digital photo-editing tools with layer capabilities, such as Photoshop or GIMP, then try combining or blending the layers together to create new composite or collages. You can blend texture into areas or even add new sections from other images. It's easy and fun with no preset rules. Just the imagination and time to play.

Slide Show to Music
In some ways, this is similar to the "tell a story in 10 photos" but with this version, the goal is to link a series of images to a musical score or song. There should be some harmony (a pun) between the photos chosen and the music.

Why not try some video compilations. As a photographer we, through many techniques, try to convey a sense of motion, action or drama from a still image. Not always easy.

Find a video recording device, preferably portable and create video sequences. Intersperse stills with video clips.

If you are primarily a colour photographer, then for a period of time only shoot Black and White images. This is not the same as taking a colour image and converting to B&W but where you choose a scene or subject beforehand because of its B&W characteristics.

B&W, because there is no colour information being presented to the viewer, is even more about the compositional elements such as lines, curves, tones, negative spaces and all those other good design decisions.

Purposely photographing in this manner will help you better focus and compose images with those design decisions in mind. Colours, while wonderful in their own right, can bias your views on what makes a good subject and can cause you to miss those other important elements.

One again I hope that some of you will have found and idea or variation on a theme in this series that you want to pursue. I find that when it comes to learning projects at least artistic ones that there is really no right and wrong with outcomes. It should be more like you have a sandbox (a frame) and a rake (texture) and just playtime. Who cares how it looks.

Niels Henriksen

For about a month I have been without Photoshop program. The older CS3 version was not migrateble to Windows 7 and I didn't want to buy CS4 since CS5 was due to be out in a short while. I was able to confirm that the CS4 64-bit version worked well but the trial period has been over for a while and I just sit and wait patiently. Since all files are in NEF, its a problem to get a converter. I did try Ufraw that is supposed to integrate with GIMP. But had driver problems.


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