|A Photographer's TLC
by Gary W. Stanley
Don't jump to conclusions now just because you think that you know what TLC means. No it's not just "tender loving care," although that is part of it. I just got back from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Massachusetts. The New England Camera Club Council had just held another very successful convention (their 57th as a matter of fact), with well over 1,200 attendees and over 40 different speakers on hand.
I started lecturing for the NECCC back in 1993 and have been fortunate enough to be invited back eight different years. I gave what's called a showcase presentation three times over the course of the weekend. It was a slide program set to music. Music seems to add a level of emotion not present in a slide-lecture program. However, I was also asked to bring a back-up program called Getting The Most Out Of Your Photography.
If you are a regular reader of this magazine, you know that this very topic appeared in the June issue. It was interesting to observe the difference between doing a showcase presentation where I just let the program run itself, and the other program where people were actually absorbed in the learning process of a slide-lecture program. The auditorium was packed with people excited about learning something new.
While the people who come to one of my programs may be new, the information more often than not is the same. Often it is something you've heard before, but it was explained in a different way. When I returned home last week, I began to think about this article and how I could present it in a little different way. What is a Photographer's TLC?
Technique, Lighting, and Composition - TLC: Perhaps the three most important elements required to create a great photograph. Now notice I didn't say, an okay photograph, or a mediocre photograph. No, I said Great! The kind of image you could look at forever.
The kind of image that confirms in your heart and mind the reason you go out before sunrise to take pictures. The reason that it takes your mind off the day-to-day issues that face us all. Oh sure, you enjoy just being out there regardless of the outcome, but when everything is working in your favor, it is a joy to behold.
As often as I repeat any point when lecturing, I tell people that the proper balance between your own artistic vision and your technical skills is so important. The reason is quite simple: when you are faced with a beautiful shooting situation, you need to know what to do with it. In spite of what we may think, the camera can't operate by itself without input from us. It can't recognize a beautiful lighting situation, nor can it set up the perfect composition. We have to be ready with both technique and vision in order to bring home that beautiful memory.
I believe that your own personal vision grows over the course of time, by seeing what others do and by way of your own experiences in photography. As your mind's eye develops its own unique way of seeing, hopefully your Photographer's TLC can keep pace.
Let's take a moment to break down the three letters T L and C, as they would apply to us. First of all, let's talk Technique. Technique certainly covers one of the greatest areas of concern because it is the mechanics of photography that can present us with some of our biggest problems. Even though you may know photography as a skill, how well do you know your camera for example?
I had Nikon F3s for years and got to know them like an old friend. I purchased a new N90s body and had to learn the different things it could do when compared to the F3. I shot with the N90s body for about six years and knew it like the back of my hand. Then, I realized that I would be left in the dust if I didn't own an Nikon F100.
Now keep in mind that my skills as a photographer were in fact improving and that I really couldn't complain about the quality of the images I was getting. But, that F100 just felt so comfortable in my hands, it was more rugged and so much easier for me to work with than the N90s. Do you suppose that it would solve any and all further photographic problems that I might have had? No! In fact it took me almost a year to get to the point where I trusted the F100 to do what I expected of it. I trusted the N90s but could I trust the F100?
Guess what? The matrix metering on the F100 wasn't quite like my N90, so when I did use matrix my exposures were off. Yes, I did check the meter. Well guess what? Now I rarely use matrix metering, I rarely use autofocus, and I spot meter or use center weighted metering over 90% of the time. Gary, you could have kept the F3s! Well, in all fairness to my F100 I wouldn't trade it for either of it's old stable mates.
Familiarity with any of your equipment is critical to the success of your photography, and is an important part of your technique. I literally had to go back and rethink my technical approach when photographing. It may sound silly, but I even went back and re-read some of my own articles like Back To Basics.
Now what about the letter L, Lighting? Well, I had gotten the camera situation under control, and could once again concentrate on the fun stuff. Lighting is one of those important elements in photography that is either there or not. There is a saying that goes like this; "It is just as important to know when not to take a photograph as it is to know when to take a photograph."
Let's expand on that and say that if you are satisfied that even though it wasn't the most spectacular lighting situation at the time you took your shot, and you still like the image, then fine, mission accomplished. Nature does not always give us those spectaculars sunsets, or magic moments. If we only took pictures then, we wouldn't get out much would we?
Just remember how special the light is when it does happen and be thankful that you had the technical skills to capture it.
Finally let's talk about the letter C, for Composition. Composition helps to bring the other two elements together. "It is the skillful use of your mind's eye to capture the image in such a way as to also capture the eye of the viewer."
A young child wants you to see his new toy, he comes running at you with loads of excitement and promptly shoves the toy right in your face. Look Daddy! I got a new truck. You calmly explain that if he steps back a few feet, you'll be able to see it better. And, in fact as he does step back, your eyes un-cross, and now you can appreciate what it is your child is trying to show you.
Composition can work much the same way. The view or perspective that you create can make all the difference in how the viewer perceives the photograph. Using the basic compositional elements of line, shape, texture and form allows the viewer to comfortably view the image without having it shoved in their face. We remember the time-honored rule to avoid Dead-Center-Syndrome (sounds morbid doesn't it?), and place our subject in the composition using the Rule-Of-Thirds (sounds authoritative!).
Use these compositional elements to enhance the light that you have been given to work with. Try to recognize in any given shooting situation the value of moving around, working your subject, trying different compositions. Begin to look for things like a leading line to draw the viewer to the main subject. Recognize that side lighting will bring out the texture in the rocks or the grasses that you are shooting.
Ask yourself if a foreground object will help add depth to the image? Will getting down closer to the ground or closer to the subject help the viewer feel as though they were right there seeing what you're seeing, sharing the moment.
Over the past year since coming on board here at Vivid Light, these have been some of the Photographic TLCs that I've tried to share with you by way of various articles that have appeared here within these web pages. Articles like: Back To Basics, Fine Tuning Your Photographs, Exposure: Get It Right The First Time, The Use And Selection Of Lenses, Getting That 4x5 look, and Getting The Most Out Of Your Photography.
Why not take a few minutes and review some of them in the magazine's archives, and take it from someone who knows: Occasionally it pays to go back and review your own articles. After all, don't I deserve a little TLC?