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I have purchased many photography books since I started shooting. Some are good and some are bad. All of them were purchased with the intent of making my images better. This is the first of many book reviews that I will be doing.
One of the first books I purchased was Bryan Peterson’s Learning To See Creatively. I wanted to learn how to create better images that would capture peoples attention. After spending quite a bit of time in the local Border’s, I liked this one.
The book starts with a quick introduction on how we see and how different lenses change that view. Peterson uses a fun exercise that makes you, using a fixed focal length, start some distance away from your subject, far enough away that the subject had lots of space around it. Take a shot and then move five steps closer. Take a shot and move again. Continue until you are unable to focus. Repeat the whole process on your knees and then on your belly. Done yet? Nope. Repeat the whole thing with a different lens length. This allows you to learn to see as your camera does.
After the part of how to see, Peterson discusses how each type of lens changes that perspective. From super wide angle to telephoto to macro. The change in perspective and depth of field is shown in some great images.
Mr. Peterson next discusses the elements of design. Starting by asking what makes a striking image and then going into the basic elements such as line, shape, and pattern.
In the next section, he discusses composition. As far I can tell, he discusses all of them important “rules” of composition; filling the frame, rule of thirds, no horizon, using diagonals, and frame within a frame. Peterson also talks about how to “work a subject” and when to break the “rules”.
As with every section, Peterson has great images that serve as wonderful examples of not only the point he is trying to make, but just plain good images.
The next section deals with light. It isn’t a long section and only deals with certain aspects of light; direction, color, and availability. There is a nice discussion on rainy days and overcast condition. This section is probably the second weakest section in the book.
In my opinion, the last two chapters, digital photography and career considerations, are the weakest sections. Granted, the copyright of the book I have is 2003 and digital was a bit younger and not quite as accepted as it is now. Still, the digital section doesn’t quite live up to the quality and information rich substance as the rest of the book. It’s only about six pages long and almost seems to be an after thought. Even more of an after thought is the section on photography as a career. Honestly, there is almost no information there of any consequence.
Through out the book, Mr. Peterson does two things I really like. First, as I have stated before, he has some great images. Just going through the book and looking at the images will get your mind thinking about how to make better images or how you could have maybe captured some of your past subjects in a more interesting way. Second, he sprinkles little exercises that help you learn the ideas he is trying to convey. I already mentioned one of those exercises. Another one I liked was in recognizing pattern. The exercise is to use only items from one room, like your kitchen, and create patterns to photograph. It makes a great late night, “I can’t sleep” exercise.
Overall, this is a great book for beginning photographers to start learning to see the world in a way that allows them to capture images in a more creative way. It is also good for more experienced photographers who might be in a rut or looking for a different point of view.
You can pick up the book at Amazon here.
Posted 3 years, 8 months ago at 8:00 am. Add a comment
One night, while at WPPI earlier this month, I was in my room overlooking the beautiful Hooters Hotel and Casino when I got this sudden inspiration for an image.
Las Vegas Night Pan 1
Las Vegas Night Pan 2
Las Vegas Night Pan 4
I know this isn’t anything new, but to me it was. I was trying to get a rear flash type of image without the flash. I put the camera on a tripod, set the shutter speed at about 10 seconds, and opened the shutter. after counting to about 8, I started to pan or move the camera until the shutter closed. Yes, I realize that is the opposite of a rear flash type of image, but the intent was to get something similar.
The first one was really just a pan and the second was one of my first tries. The bottom two were two of my more successful attempts.
I know these aren’t perfect yet, but they are the start of an idea.
Please let me know what you think. Your comments are always appreciated.
Posted 3 years, 8 months ago at 8:00 am. 1 comment
In all fairness, after I posted my final thoughts, I gave the professor a call and asked for his point of view. I thought we had a great talk and he had some very valid points.
He pointed out that he was teaching in an art department and that the goal was for artists to be able to produce works of art. There is NO doubt in my mind that black & white photography is a great form of art. Black & white forces the artist and the viewer to concentrate on the subject and not be distracted by the colors in the image. Black & white brings out the textures and details of an image.
He also pointed out the communal experience of a darkroom. In a large darkroom, it is possible for individuals to work together and collaborate on both technique and composition. The students get feedback on the image right away.
We also discussed the differences between an art program and a vocational ed program such as those found in a community college. In a vocational ed type of situation it is all about learning how to capture the image; the process. Art is not about the process, but more about the final product and is VERY communal. It takes the artist and the viewer to create a piece of art.
Finally, and probably most importantly, he said that he surveys every class and in every survey the overwhelming response is that students want to learn how to develop film and make prints in the darkroom. Honestly, I can’t argue with that. I got into photography because I loved watching the image rise out of the paper in the developer turning a blank sheet of white paper into something that I had created. It is a magical feeling when you create something with your own hands.
I would still argue that an artist is only as good as his skill with the tools he is using and a beginning class in any art medium should cover the mastery of those tools. I have said all along that film and other photographic mediums have a place in the classroom and should be introduced to students, but after they understand how use the tools to capture their vision.
I kind of consider this like photographic subjects; not everyone is going to like every subject. I like nature and landscape photography and others like street photography. That doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate the effort and craft of a good street photography image. It just means that isn’t the type of images I want to look at and I don’t want to go out and make that kind of pictures.
The bottom line is that he is teaching the class and doing what he thinks is right for the students and the program. Being a teacher, I have to respect that. I don’t agree with it, but I respect it.
I found the instructor very open to discussion and more than willing to share his point of view while listening to mine. I hope I can maintain an open dialog with him in the future.
I welcome your comments and look forward to the discussion that could be created from these ideas.
Posted 3 years, 8 months ago at 8:00 am. Add a comment
In my last three posts, I have been discussing a local university’s basic photography class and my opinion of the mandatory use of film in the class.
I have pointed out the following:
- The cost and expense of film.
- The instant feedback that digital provides.
- Use of the camera as a teaching tool.
- The stifling of creativity that can come with film.
- The fact that the future is digital.
Here is a copy of the course from page 102 in the online CSUSB catalog:
290. Photography I
Fundamentals of black and white photography including manual camera operation, black and white film developing and printing. Emphasis on composition, content and image-making for creative expression. Two hours lecture and six hours laboratory. Formerly ART 390. Materials fee required. (5 units)
According to the catalog, Photography I is the first class that a photography art student has to take to continue with photography at CSUSB and according to the description the emphasis is on composition, content and image making for creative expression.
This is the first photography class that a student takes in the art department and it should be geared toward making students better photographers. The first class in any subject should hook the students. It should make them want to take the next class and the next class and the next class.
When I teach biology, my purpose is not only to cover the subject matter, but to do it in a way that makes the kids want to learn more about the subject. I do that using whatever I can find that captures the imagination of the kids. That same passion should be found in ALL educational settings. Technology is one of the tools that is available to the university to do that with photography.
The history of any passion is important. To know where it comes from determines where it is headed. The history of an art allows the students to see what has been done so that they experiment with what was done and discover what hasn’t been done, making it their own. But you don’t have to know how to develop black & white film in order to learn photography. As a matter of fact, with today’s technology, black & white film hinders the process.
But if you’re going to teach B&W, why stop at “traditional”? Why not daguerreotype? Or calotype? Are you going to teach dodging and burning? NO. Why not? Because the teacher needs spend time teaching students how to develop film instead of how to master their camera.
Beginning students should learn how to capture their vision. They need to learn that if you change the aperture, you change the depth of field and how that can be used to bring attention to your subject. They need to learn how to use the shutter speed to show time; slow speeds allow motion into the image and a fast shutter speed freezes the action and allows the viewer to see things that they can’t see with their naked eye.
Beginning students should be able to see the relationship between ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. They should learn how lowering one causes the other two change and you can change one and determine which of the other you want to change and how it affects the image.
They need to learn how to use aperture priority and shutter priority and that each of those modes have advantages and limits. They need to learn how to frame a shot and why one composition works better than others. And they need to learn to see the light in the scene and how to capture the image that the see in their vision.
How are they supposed to do that when they are limited to 36 exposures that they have to focus on developing, printing, and then trying to remember what they did in camera that is different from the last shot? By using digital, they can get that feedback after each shot. They can compare shots with other students and examine EXIF data for ways to improve their images.
Finally, digital is the future. It has surpassed the quality of film a long time ago and film companies have either gone out of business or have stopped making many of the traditional films. Why? Because almost no one uses film any more.
I think that a beginning photography class at the university level has to embrace technology. It has to allow the students to learn with the best tools available at the time. Film is not it.
Again, I welcome your comments and thoughts.
Posted 3 years, 8 months ago at 8:00 am. Add a comment
In a previous post I described a situation at a local university where the photography teacher was requiring students in a beginning photography class to use B&W film. This thinking is wrong.
I have already listed two reasons that digital is better in the classroom:
- Instant feedback.
Here are three more reasons that the technology of digital photography is better used in a classroom than film.
- Teaching tool. If the instructor was really doing his job, he would be using a camera tethered to a computer/projector in the classroom to demonstrate how changes in the camera, lighting, model, etc. affect the final image. I saw this several times this year at WPPI. The speaker would set up the lights, model, camera and take a picture. Instantly, it would appear on the screen and he could point out the problems, make an adjustment or two, shoot another image, and we could see the results and why he made the changes. It was almost as good as working with the camera yourself. In a beginning photography class, how could an instructor NOT use such a tool?
- Creativity. Bill told me that he wanted to take a chance and try some different things for his final project, but was unwilling to do so because of the limitations of film. He couldn’t afford to make any mistakes because of the cost and time involved with film. He is right. With digital, he would be able to experiment, challenge himself, and further his photographic skills. He could try different situation, compositions, and techniques. But because he was limited to film, he took the easy way and just did the minimum to accomplish the task required for the assignment.
- Preparing students for the future. The future of photography is in digital. There is nothing wrong with film, but if students are going to learn for the future, and that is the purpose of education, they have to be able to shoot in digital. Film is fine in a an advanced class, but for preparing students for the future, it is wrong.
I will give my final thoughts on this in my next post, but until then I welcome your opinions and thoughts.
Posted 3 years, 8 months ago at 8:00 am. 7 comments
In my last post I described a situation at my friend’s university where the photography teacher was requiring students in a beginning photography class to use B&W film. I think this is a travesty.
Here are two advantages of using a DSLR in a beginning photography class:
- Expense. If a student can even find a film camera, it isn’t going to be cheap. Buying and developing film isn’t cheap. I am assuming that students go into a photography class because they have a camera and want to learn how to be better photographers. Forcing them to use film is counterproductive to that goal. And making them better is the goal of education.
- Instant feedback. By using a digital camera the students are able to get an idea if the adjustment to the camera or lighting or composition worked. If the assignment is to take a picture using a shallow depth of field, the ability of a student to look at the LCD on the back of the camera and see the results instantly is an education. They can make an adjustment and try to capture the image again, getting instant feedback on their input. If the students are forced to use film, they have to wait for the lab to get the film developed and back before they have any idea if their technique worked.
I consider these two points the most important issues for not using film in a beginning photography class. Remember, a beginning photography class is supposed to be about learning the art and craft of photography. Anything that can be used to help the students progress toward achieving that goal.
I’ll be writing more about this tomorrow.
I encourage your comments and thoughts. Please feel free to leave them below.
Posted 3 years, 8 months ago at 8:00 am. 2 comments
I have an ex-student of mine, Bill (not his real name) who is attending Cal State San Bernardino and taking a basic photography class. We were talking the other day and we started to discuss what he was doing in class.
I found out that his instructor REQUIRED that all work be done on B&W film. I find this offensive. I might not be a great photographer yet, but after 21 year in the classroom, I know something about teaching. To use film in this day and age in a beginning photography class is a crime.
Don’t get me wrong. I think film is cool. I used to use it. I liked it. I don’t want to use it again. I am fine with people who do. This is NOT a criticism about film or a anti-film rant. It isn’t even about film vs. digital. It’s about photography teachers who are unable to accept a better teaching tool because they, like the dinosaurs, are unable to adapt. Specifically, it is about film vs. digital in a BEGINNING photography class.
With proliferation of DSLRs in the market place and the instant feed back it gives the photographer, using film in an educational setting is detrimental to the students. Using a digital camera in a beginning photography class would further the education of the students so much more than using a film camera and isn’t that the goal of a photography class?
I am not shying away from this, but I have not (and will not) contact the individual directly. I am more than willing to discuss it with him if he wants to contact me.
I will be discussing this further over the next few posts and I welcome your comments and thoughts on this subject.
Posted 3 years, 8 months ago at 8:00 am. 2 comments
After a night in Furnace Creek it was time to start heading home, but not after shooting one of the iconic images in Death Valley; a Zabriski Point sunrise.
Sunrise was supposed to be at about 5:45, so I was up at five. After two nights of dealing with my rig, I have the tear down and packing down to a pretty good science. I was out of the campground and on the road by about 5:15. I really thought I would be one of the only ones at Zabriski point. I WAS WRONG!!!
Panorama of Photographers at Zabriski Point
After getting a quick pano of the crowd, I went to my pre-scouted spot and set up. It was kind of funny as I was in short sleeves and most people were bundled up in parkas and knit caps. The ironic part was that I haven’t seen a cloud in three days, especially when I wanted one, and now there was nothing but clouds that threatened to ruin the sunrise. It didn’t.
What I found interesting was that as soon as the sun rose over the horizon, everyone left. I mean everyone except a couple and another gentleman. The couple was doing something cool, she was shooting regular shots, but he was doing a time-lapse of the valley with the shadow of the clouds moving over it as the sun rose behind him.
Why was this interesting? Because the light got GREAT after everyone left. If you listen to people like Scott Bourne on the PhotoFocus podcast or Rick Sammon and Juan Pons on the Digital Photo Experience podcast or listen to speakers like George Lepp, they ALL say to stay until the light is gone. Gone as in GONE, not just lacking.
By the time the sun was up, the clouds acted like a giant soft box, diffusing the light all over the landscape. In addition, the clouds allowed the sun to play a game of peek-a-boo with the hills. As a result I came up with this shot, which I knew would be good in the field, but after just a little tweaking in Lightroom turned out amazing. At least I think so. The diffused light allowed the hills to show their color, but the spots of harsh light allowed me to get a good composition. To me, it almost looks like a painting.
Zabriski Point Sunrise
After leaving Zabriski Point, I headed to Golden Canyon to walk the 1.5 miles up into the canyon and take some shots in the shade before it got too warm and bright.
Hikers in Golden Canyon
The Back of Manly Beacon
After that, I headed to Bad Water. I didn’t stick around Bad Water too long because I wanted to get started home. I had found a road on the map that heads out of Death Valley via a 30 mile dirt road that goes out the south end of the valley. It was fun driving over 30 mile of dirt road. It wasn’t fun sitting in traffic on the 15 for the next five hours.
I look forward to my next trip to Death Valley. I have some new ideas about what to shoot.
You can view some more of my images here.
Please, I welcome any and all comments on both my trip and on my photography.
Posted 3 years, 9 months ago at 7:55 am. Add a comment