Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tech Talk Tuesday

What Karen Sees
Hummm, the title of this post sounds familiar.  What I want to talk about today kind of has to do with the name of my blog, but I'll explain that in a minute.

Last week's Tech Talk Tuesday was the tip of the iceberg of what you need to know about the technical side of using your camera to capture memorable pictures.  Important, but not fun.....unless you're one of those techies I talked about.  Important because you must have that foundation so you know how to record the image you see with your eye, or with your 'mind's eye', on your flash card, a computer, film, print, web, etc.

Today I want to talk about some fun stuff, and for me, it's the artistic side of photography.  I'm going to talk about what I think is the most important first step in taking a great photo.   First of all, I want to describe what a great photo is for me.  I've done this before, (most recently in a comment on Scott's blog), but it's an important part of my philosophy so I'll repeat.  A great photo is one that causes the viewer to take a second look, or look a little closer, or want to view it longer than the other pics he may be looking at, or decide to come back and view it again - in other words, keep and hold the attention of the viewer.  The photographer has done something  right to make that photo memorable.

So how do you make a photo memorable??  In my humble opinion, it starts before you pick up your camera, before you fiddle with the controls, or before you push the button.  I think all of us at times look at a scene and think, "that would make a great picture",  so we put the viewfinder up to our eye, compose, focus and take the shot.  This could be a landscape, a portrait, almost anything.  Then later when we look at the picture on the computer or printed out, we think, "that doesn't look as great as I remember".

I think one reason we are disappointed is we failed to identify what it was about the scene that really caught our attention.  Or even if we did,  we didn't stop to think about how to use our camera, our understanding of composition, and our own creativity to emphasis this interesting feature.

This is where the title of my blog comes in.  You and I might look at the same scene and yet see things very differently.  In other words, what I see can be very different from what you see!  Here's an example.  Maybe you and I are both at Zion National Park looking at the same beautiful scene.  I say, "wow, this is beautiful", pull out my camera, compose, and snap the picture.  You on the other hand, take a few minutes to really study the scene and say, "what is it that makes this so beautiful.....well, I think it is the amazing intense red color of the rocks and the way that cliff is enormous and dwarfs everything around it.  Humm, how can I show the people who will view this picture what so impresses me about this scene.  Well, first I'll make sure my camera is set on Landscape picture style to make sure the color saturation is at the max to show off the vibrant red color in the rock.  I also think I'll adjust the aperture so that the foreground is not quite in focus and attention is really drawn to the cliff. Then I think I'll move in closer and angle my shot upwards to emphasize how huge this cliff is.  Boy I wish that tourist would move out of the way so I'd have a clean shot...wait a minute, I'm going to include him to show a comparison in size so the viewer can really see how enormous that cliff is.  O.K. I think I'm ready.....wait a minute, I just realized that the cliff is facing west.  At sunset, (the magic hour), that cliff will be 'on fire' with beautiful light and shadows.  I'll come back and take this shot then!!!"

Can you see what I'm getting at?  Producing an interesting picture takes both thought and often time.  The first picture in my last post is a good example.  When you read the caption you can see I not only wanted to show a beautiful scene, but I also wanted to create a mood about how I was feeling at the time.  I had to figure out creatively, how to put that across by using my artistic abilities, my basic knowledge of photography, and my understanding of how my camera works; and I have to add, my ability to use post processing techniques in Photoshop and Lightroom, and various other computer programs I use.  But it always starts with getting it right in the camera. 

This takes some practice and it even works with candids and action photography; however, often you have to anticipate and picture in your mind what would make a good shot, then be in the right place with your camera ready for what you hope will happen.

Sometimes you might want to create a mood or feeling or emotion for the viewer.  Maybe it's an outstanding feature in nature.  It could be an idea, or something unusual, or even something common but seen from an unusual view.  The possibilities are endless but should all have one thing in common...whatever it is should make your photo stand out from the rest.  I read somewhere that it was virtually impossible to get a picture of a sunset accepted for publication in a certain magazine, because photos of amazingly beautiful sunsets are so common, they are no longer interesting.       

Now for you skeptics who insist there are great shots you've snagged with no effort, because you just happen to have been in the right place at the right time, with camera in hand..... I totally agree.  Sometimes it all comes together and you get lucky.  But I maintain, you will consistently create more memorable images that you and your followers, family, and friends will want to look at over and over again, when you spend time really 'seeing' what you are about to photograph, then deciding how you will get your viewers to 'see what you see'.

This week's assignment is to look at some of your recent photos with a critical eye.  See what you might have done differently to further emphasize the reason you took the photo in the first place.  And, if you are an over achiever and want extra credit, here's a bonus assignment.  Pick a scene and identify one element within the scene you want to emphasize.  Take at least 5 good pictures of the entire scene, using different angles, camera settings, creative focus etc., but of the 5, take only one that you really feel emphasizes the feature you chose.  Then show the 5 images to several friends or family and ask them if they feel one of the five does a better job of showing that feature, and see if they choose the same one you did.  (And I would love being one of the friends who look at your images.  You can either make a comment with a link to your photos, or email them to me at:   Karen@KarenLarsenOnline.com)      

P.S.  For next week's 'Tech Talk Tuesday' I'm going to list my favorite blogs/websites where I find both education and inspiration.


diane said...

Thanks for the information.I must try it.

Sandra said...

this all makes perfect sense, I have done this many times, and i tend to snap away like my nickname, madly snapping because it is all beutiful. I did that at the beach last week. i have a surf board photo found on the beach, if I had takent the time, i could have shown what i was feeling when i saw it. it said abandonment, my photo does not. it will show up soon on a post, i tend to take good photos, but not sensational. that is what i want, photos that people look at and stop and look again. thanks karen.

Loyce said...

Wow, Karen, outstanding post! I've decided to print this one out and really, I mean REALLY practice this method.

It makes a lot of sense and it's something I don't think I've ever thought about.

I'm wondering if it's OK if I pass this along to some of my newbie students. I won't do it without your permission.


(I think you already have my email address, but just in case you don't...)

Anonymous said...

What a powerful statement:
"Identify what it was about the scene that really caught your attention and create something to make your photo stand out from the rest" Your pictures truly demonstrate this. Thanks for sharing your tips and helping others to improve their photography. -DE

Stacey Dawn said...

Karen - such great info and the way you write it is so easy to comprehend and encouraging. Thank you.
I hope to find time this week to try it!!

Karen said...

Thanks everyone, (those who leave comments here as well as those who send me emails), for your nice comments. Loyce, you are more than welcome to use this information for your students.

Ginny said...

This is all so interesting and just what I need. I have always thought that a person either sees things in an artistic way or she doesn't. A talent you are kind of born with? Do you think it can be taught; seeing in different ways? Because I am certainly not good at seeing things that other people do, nor can I draw or paint. I just don't have it. BUT I can try. can't I? And this exercise is very good! I am going to remember this and start to do it!! I love learning new things!!!

Karen said...

Ginny, you raise a very good point. I agree that there are some people who are naturally artistic and creative, but I also know that talents, skills and abilities are learned. Otherwise there would be no need for piano teachers, art teachers, tennis coaches, etc. if it is all natural. Not many of us will ever be an Ansel Adams, or a Beethoven, but we all can acquire expertise, even in artistic endeavors. First it's important to learn the basic photography composition 'rules' such as the 'rule of thirds', 'leading lines', etc., and then practice, practice, learn, learn, practice some more. Pretty soon you will look at the world differently and see pleasing compositions all around. And then you will start breaking the rules at times because you can see a stronger composition by doing so, and before you know it, you'll be making your own rules! So YES, it is absolutely possible to acquire the artistic side of photography with effort, education and practice! P.S. You might be interested in some of my past 'Tech Talk Tuesdays'. They're listed on the side panel of the blog.

Dave said...

I agree Karen. Taking time over a photo if you can is essential to getting that stand out from the crowd shot. As you have said in previous post sometimes you can take 30+ shots only to have one worth using. If as you say we look for that all important wow factor in the scene first maybe we will only have to take one or two before we get that great image. Thanks for the info I will be dropping by regularly now that I've found you, great Blog.

Scott said...

This is an awesome post! Very well thought out and nicely stated. Of course your beautiful photos stand behind every word. I also totally agree with your comments to Ginny. I used to work in a job where sometimes I sold cameras, and sometimes I trained other sales people. I talked about the two kinds of people that buy cameras. There are "picture takers" and "picture makers". I think your post describes the difference extremely well. To Ginny and all others who read this, I do believe most picture takers can become picture makers if they want to.

Karen said...

Very well stated Scott!