Well thought out?

22 06 2011

As a response to my previous post my fellow photographer Tracy Milkay (her great photo blog here) wrote

“You can tell they [your photos] are so well thought out – from composition to finishing.”

This statement evoked following questions: “Can I?” “Are they?” “Really?” It brought me to thinking about whole process of photo creation more deeply and to wondering if the process is similar for other photographers, no matter how experienced.

So are my photos well thought out? Answer to this question isn’t so easy. The closest simple answer would be probably “to some extent”. I’ll try to describe the process of creating my photos and leave the answer to you. I’ll describe the process in 3 steps:

1) subject study – this is necessary and very important step before looking through camera viewfinder at the subject. Time needed for this study depends on time I can spend with the subject (minutes in case of time pressure or unknown environment on one side of axis, even weeks or months in case of flowers in our home or garden on the other side of axis) and frequency of using the same subject by me or other photographers while the latter variable is in direct proportion to the needed time. The more common the subject is for other photographers or even me the more time I will need for coming up with something original.

2) taking photo – this is usually quite straightforward process and it is basically consisting of looking for suitable composition and light and taking photo(s). If I had visualized the photo before taking camera in hands I start with this photo first and then continue as described in preceeding sentence. If I can’t come up with anything “decent” I play with other techniques such as panning and zooming. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t but I must say that I end up with decent to great photo much much more often than with nothing. Frankly, I don’t remember when I deleted all photos from a photo session for the last time.

3) photo processing – I like realistic photos, meaning that I don’t like to adjust them too much during processing phase. It means that I usually don’t want to change what came from the camera too much. I turn my photos into paintings, I use textures, you may say. Yes, I do but really seldom. I turn my photos into black & white and give them colour tones sometimes but this is in cases when I either want to emphasize the shapes and colour isn’t so important or when colour is distracting. The conversion to black and white is not always intended from the beginning. Sometimes I take some photo with intention to have it in colour but then when looking at it on monitor I don’t like it in colour or it looks just ordinary so I try colour adjustments such as conversion to black and white and toning. This is the case of photo called Daisy trio from previous post.

Well, enough of theory, let’s show it on example:

~ Violet explosion ~
1/2 sec., f/16, ISO 100

~ Entrance ~
2.5 sec., f/22, ISO 100

My wife got this Dendrobium orchid for her birthday in March. I see orchids as very challenging subjects for taking photos of them and moreover I don’t like this Dendrobium sort much. We had the flower in our bedroom for maybe two months and then my wife moved it into our dining room and placed it so that the accompanying palm leaf was proped to the window. When sun lit it from behind one afternoon I liked the fresh green colour of the leaf and how the intense violet colour of the flower stood out against it.

The study period here was more than 2 months! I saw the flower every day and I asked myself how would I photograph it in original way very often. When I took the photo that I visualized in my head earlier (the left one) I thought that it might be good to take a macro shot of the flower and I really liked the details in central part. When I saw it on a monitor then I knew that the first photo (the left one) is quite ordinary but presenting both together as a diptych could work nicely. So here it is. And by the way the left photo was created from 2 photos, one at f/2.8 for background out of focus, second at f/16 for the blossom entirely in plane of focus. These 2 images were then taken into Photoshop as different layers (f/16 as background layer) and then I masked the blossom from f/2.8 version with f/16 one. This is technique which I use quite often when I can’t get desired DOF with a subject.

This is nice example of a photo(s) that was thought out even though not completely visualized during study process.

That’s it. I would like to know if your process of taking and creating image is similar or different and if different then where it differes and how. I’m really looking forward to your response.

Have a nice end of the week!

Technical information: all photographs in this post were taken with Canon EOS 450D camera and Canon EF 100mm USM macro lens, in natural conditions.

P.S. I know why I was so reluctant with taking photo of this orchid. There was so much specks and dust threads on petals that merging those 2 exposures together and cloning out all the dust took me almost 2 hours!




4 responses

24 06 2011
Ken Bello

You’ve broken down the photographic process into 3 general steps and I think that most photographers follow the same steps. The first step – “studying the subject”, can sometimes be very fast. When you’re out in the field, you may see something that immediately catches your eye and shoot. Automation has simplified the shooting step, for the most part, but some photographers may rely on manual focus and exposure, whatever they feel appropriate. Post processing can be straight foreword or very time consuming but this is where the rubber meets the road. If not done right, a great shot could be disastrous. All of the steps are necessary for the creative process and I wouldn’t know if there is one more important than the other.
I like these shots on this post. I don’t think our orchid will bloom this year, so no photos for me.

24 06 2011
Tomas Turecek

Thanks, Ken for your opinion. I agree that the 3 steps are very general and every photographer go through them all but the attitude will differ in time spent in each step and also operations done within these steps. Have a nice weekend.

27 06 2011

See??! I was RIGHT! 🙂

Your images ARE well-thought out and I agree with Ken, your process is very similar to most photographers. Even when my ‘study period’ of a subject is short, my goal is always to capture something unique. Am I always successful? Nope. But more often than not, if I keep trying, I eventually end up with the desired shot. It’s the entire journey of the process that makes me a better photographer for the NEXT TIME. I have shots that are in my head for YEARS. It is such a reward when they finally come to fruition.

Wonderful shots of the orchid and I totally agree that the two work exceptionally well as a dyptic. The first shot sets the stage for the second and provides some interesting pespective.

(P.S. I’ve used the same technique for combining two images to achieve the DOF I am seeking. 🙂 )

28 06 2011
Tomas Turecek

Yes, you were right 😀 You gave me an idea for this post and so I didn’t want to give you straight answer though 😉
You write that “I have shots that are in my head for YEARS” – well I’m into flower photography only for 2 years but I have also some subjects that I want to shoot for some long time, especially in case of fragile flowers in our garden which bloom for short period of time. I don’t have exact photos in my head but at least some ideas about setting and if conditions aren’t good I just say to myself, “ok, so next year”. It’s quite frustrating on one side but it also keeps me looking forward on other.

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