Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The camera never lies? Or does it?

***Photo from babipur

In most cases, it seems that the taking of a photograph depends on many factors that we have little or no control over, including the subject matter, the lighting, and the timing. This is seen as a more spontaneous or journalistic form of photography and is common in the sort of opportunities that present themselves when we are on holiday or at a function or event (or just with family or friends.)

For some, this is “true” photography, where the “camera never lies” and is seen as a true representation of what occurred at the instant the shutter was released.

We have control of “the decisive moment,” where we try to capture the essence of the moment by waiting for the ideal instant when all the elements of the image are in place before we press the shutter button. Is this then a “true” record of that instant?

Many have argued that it isn’t, as we do have some influence as to timing, framing, and choice of viewpoint and focal length before we release the shutter. So, in a sense, we have manipulated the “moment” by our selection of many factors and making choices that convey “our” interpretation of the moment. Is there a real difference then between “recording” a moment or “capturing” the same moment? Either way, we have edited the moment and it is no longer a “true” record of the moment. The question begs though, does it matter? And like all open questions, the answer is it depends on the purpose of the image in the first place.

Planning the shot

Besides the “taking” of photographs, there is, of course, another side to photography that is more controlled and that allows us to “create” the image that we want.

This creative photography may take place prior to the “taking” of the photograph or after the image is taken. By planning the desired image that we want (and of course, taking into account the purpose of the image) and then arranging the elements to ensure that we get what we are aiming for, we can create a photographic image to specifications.

Most commercial and advertising images are created to suit a specific need. Take this website as an example of a commercial entity using imagery and text to play on the emotions of the viewer. This is done by presenting the elements of sea, land, and children. However, this approach also includes product, fashion, and architectural photography, etc. The photographer has full control of the scene and controls all elements including the subject matter at hand, the lighting (usually) as well as his/her interpretation of the final image.

This sort of planned image can be just as difficult to create as the more spontaneous “journalistic” images that we “record” (ask any commercial photographer.) We will touch on some aspects of the created image further along the track.

You can also create an image “after” the event, (both spontaneous or planned images) by what is called post-processing. Since the early days of photography, photographers have had the opportunity to manipulate the image before them, either in camera or in the darkroom. Today, our “darkroom” is image processing software such as Photoshop and the like. There is almost no limit as to what can be created in terms of “photographic images”.

Purists may argue that this image processing (or manipulation) is no longer “photography”, but it can be said that the digital process used today is no different as it was “back in the old days”, except that the tools have changed (and require a lesser degree of skill to achieve good results).

Early photographers had the ability to create multi-exposure images, employ darkroom cropping and exposure manipulation as well as other more subtle techniques like airbrushing (the former Soviet Union used this technique routinely to remove undesirables who just “disappeared” – also see this article) to “enhance” an image. 

The four elements

With regards to “The Journey,” I believe that there are Four Elements that need to be considered when trying to take/create an image/moment that is more than a “snapshot.”

They are:

The Photographer (Wind)
The Subject (Water)
The Composition (Fire)
The Technique (Earth)

The Photographer

Like “Wind,” you, as the photographer, ultimately provide the intangible. The purpose and reason for the photograph, the intellect, the vision, the timing and the interpretation of what is before you, i.e. The Subject.

***Photo from wallpapercave

The Subject

Like “Water,” the subject of a photograph is everywhere and can be flowing or still. It can be a spontaneous scene that is happening before you or a carefully crafted scene that has been planned to the last detail. It may involve people or places or inanimate objects. You may or may not have control of the subject and you will have to adapt as required. Sometimes, it is difficult to decide what it is you are trying to photograph, especially when the scene is full of possible subjects. Understanding what the actual subject of the photo you want and deciding how best to photograph it, will help greatly as you try to manage “The Composition.”

The Composition

The Composition of a photograph is the “Fire” of an image. It is the key element in creating images that make people look and appreciate an image. So what exactly IS composition? One definition for composition states that it is “The combining of different parts to make a whole” (also see this Wikipedia entry for a more comprehensive explanation from an artistic perspective). There are some “rules” and many aspects to the “combining of different parts” in the composition that has evolved over many years, particularly in relation to the field of painting. Ideally, the various elements and rules in a composition should create an emotional response in the viewer (just like music). Having said that, these “rules” should be seen more like guidelines that work but can (and should) be broken when it is appropriate. However, good composition with poor technical execution will still lead to a poor image.
The Technique
Like “Earth”, there are foundations that all creative work needs to be based on. There are techniques that need to be understood and mastered (or at least controlled). In photography, these include understanding all aspects of your hardware and software (you may not need to master them all, but at least know what your equipment is capable of). You need to understand how exposure works, including shutter speed and ISO settings. Be aware of the effect of different aperture settings on the focus (or more accurately, depth-of-field). Know when to use different focal lengths of lenses (or zoom) for controlling perspective. If you are planning on using artificial lights, experiment with different lighting setups and light modifiers. 
Picture perfect

If you are going to “enhance” your images using image editing software, take the time to learn how to get the best out of them. As boring as it may be, a thorough understanding of the “technical stuff” is required, in addition to the other three elements, to produce outstanding images.

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