Archive for the ‘Composition’ Category

Bit by bit I am processing the images we took in Scotland a month ago. After processing the film and scanning, I am having the first “drafts” of the final images.

I am posting here today one of those images which make a whole trip. During our stay there, we spent a week around the Torridon area. I had not seen many images from the place before leaving home, but a quick tour with Google Earth really made me understand the great potential of the place: a long and deep loch getting from the sea into the land, surrounded by a great concentration of peaks like the Liatach, Beinn Alichin and Beinn Eighe.

This image is the result of a combination of planning and a deep location finding-scouting in the field. When I say planning, I am talking about using topographic maps, Google Earth, Photographer Ephemeris and the sunset-sunrise time and direction for the dates of the trip. Using all those tools, I realized the strongest image would be captured looking “into” the land and not from there into the sea. For that, we would need to really go as close to the sea as possible along the loch, looking for a high vantage point to obtain a composition where the loch itself is leading the eye towards the mighty peaks in the background. That would also create a united composition which would capture the essence of this place: loch and mountains, sea water and rock.

However, all this planning was just the tip of the iceberg. As really strong images are made up of tiny details and aspects which cannot be seen on maps, google earth or any other kind of tool, it is once on the field that you can study how to create an unified composition which make an image memorable. This, which applies to all images in general, is specially more important in my opinion for the case of panoramic images. There is always a big temptation to fall under the spell of the appeal of the panoramic format and focus your lens just to the infinity, getting a wide view of the distant land. Sometimes, this is the way to go (see my first post with a Scottish image of sun beams across the clouds, where there is anyway mid-distance land and background to create depth and a play of tones and light to reinforce that illusion), but more often than not, it is the foreground which really makes the photograph extraordinary. In this case, I really wanted a strong foreground element. I wanted an image which would also tell a story, the story of the past of this land, of how all this landscape was created. Some millions of years ago, huge glaciers run from inland into the seas (which were at a much lower level), grinding the valley and shaping the land into those U valleys we can see so well in the Highlands. Today, after those gigants dissappeared, the only features left by that past are deep lochs (created when the sea inundated the valleys when rising its level), those rounded slopes in the hills and scattered erratic boulders left by the ice.

For this image, I really was looking forward for a good foreground element, and it dawned on me that the best element would be a nice erratic boulder. It would help anchor the composition, inject depth into the image, tell the whole story and also provoke emotionally the viewer with that sight of a lonely element comtemplating the scene as if alive. So when we arrived at that area marked with a X on our map, we scouted looking for it. What I did not foresee was finding THE boulder, the perfect one, with perfect shape and form, and really dominating the whole landscape.  I had the image. Or almost.

Basically, in this case I had incubated the concept even long before arriving in Scotland, and almost visualized it. This was on of those times when things seem to have been put for you, just for your image, when Nature seems to collaborate so that your concept comes alive. This location was love at first sight, and so we came back four different afternoons. For a couple of days, we got foggy and almost blizzard conditions, the whole landscape being covered in snow. I realized i did not want snow on the foreground. Even in winter, the grass there in Scotland keeps a really nice golden colour, which can shine when the low winter sun kisses it for a few seconds. The nice rock forms also would make a great subject for the foreground, and the fact of having a dark interesting detailed foreground with a darker tone would really help to separate the background from the foreground layer, adding depth and stability to the image. Too many things which would have got missed with snow covering the land…

It seems nature also cooperated with us on this regard, since in a couple of days the temperature rose a bit, and the snow line quickly raised to higher altitude, uncovering the boulder and the vegetation, but leaving a hint on the distant peaks, making them look even higher. That was the contrast I was looking for: golden colours given by the setting sun in contrast with a bleak and dramatic ominous background. Now the only thing missing was the light, that golden light…

We kept coming for another two occasions, and the last one, we got the light we were after. At the end of a really broody day with overcast skies, the clouds began to open a bit on the West, giving us hope. A few minutes before sunset, the sun pierced the sky, and for a few minutes spotlights bathed the landscape in golden light. For a few seconds we got the boulder lit by the light, bringing alive the whole area, creating that striking contrast of oranges and blues and giving a ton of depth to the image by revealing the texture and rugged character of the foreground. A minute later the light switched off, and the show finished. Using film with a camera like the 617 I wondered whether I had the image or not. I would know it a month later. Sometimes, going to the lab is like having Xmas…

Thanks for reading and great light to you all,

Click on the image to see it bigger!!


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Autumn has come (photographically speaking) in central Europe, and we could not wait to see the first fall colours inundating the slopes of the Alps. A few days ago we visited the area of Saas Valley, in Valais, and the still green larches from the valley bottom have already turned to gold at higher altitudes. We spent a night up there in what seemed to be the last “decent” temperatures of the season and experienced a great sunset, star-filled night and wonderful sunrise. Although the panoramic images are still in the lab, I decided to post one of the digital captures we took there.

 To the tell you the truth, this images is quite unconventional, taking into account nice autumn colours scream for colour images normally. However, there are some times you really know black and white will enhance the message and visual impact of the image…and this was one of those cases.

When talking about composition to my students, i have always hated to talk about “rules”. For me, there are no real rules of compositions. As Eliot Porter said, “thinking about rules of composition when taking an image is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk.  If you really twist my arm asking for “rules”, I would tell you: Simplify, and make the abstraction of the subject matter into its visual building blocks…This later part means: instead of looking at a certain part of the landscape and seeing “trees”, “rocks”, “water”, “clouds” and “mountains”, you should see tones, colours, lines, shapes, balance between elements, visual tension, repetitions, visual echos, textures, patterns,…It is only in this way that you will become a visual artist, and not a simple snapshooter. If you want images than transcend the simple denotations, you need much more than a nice subject and a great light. You need to take your responsibility as photographer, and do that so important part of the job which consists in putting a frame around a little piece of reality to show it to others, in a way it conveys the message you want to be conveyed. And to do this, you need to stop thinking in terms of “subjects depicted” or “tags” and start thinking in terms of visual components for your image.

If you take a look at this image, the real message is the drama of the alpine world, a dynamic image showing what anyone might feel when in the mountains. This message is conveyed by means of that channel of expression which is completely linked to the depicted subject matter. In this case, the fury of the elements (the water raging down the valley), the mineral raw material which created the whole thing (the rock boulders) and the majestic peaks towering over the whole, almost touching that sky with booming clouds where the back light and god beams add to the drama. If these elements depicted help transmit the message, the sole channel of the subject matter represented in the image is not enough for a really strong image. We need to use or accompany that by a second channel of expression in a coherent way: what I call the structural or formal expression of the image. This means we need to use the visual building blocks which are the base for any visual design, as words which put in a certain order convey and highlight the same message or evocative feeling we want to pass with our image content. In this example, the photograph is about dynamism, drama, intemporality, wilderness and raw natural force. 

This message is conveyed by using a diagonal lines, triangular shapes (you might be able to count more than 12 different triangles here), a high overall contrast, a shutter speed which retains a strong texture in the water but shows its movement, the back lighting, the sharp angles and rugged texture of the rocks, the wide richness of tones, the depth created by the water getting diagonally into the frame and bouncing in zig zag as it enters the image, the diminishing perspective (trees becoming smaller as they get far away)…and the black and white conversion.

Black and white here does two things: it takes away an extra dose of documentary or realistic level and elevate the image to a higher level of connotations, and most of all, focuses the attention to the strong visual qualities of the composition without adding an extra layer of information which would not have added as much expression but more complexity. In a way, getting rid of the colour, you see much easier the wonderful textures, lines, shapes of the scene, and savour much slower the strong composition of the scene. In a way, with the black and white conversion I opted for strengthening the message conveyed by the visual building blocks of the image, even if I had to sacrifice the richness of the autumn colour at the level of the subject matter. It adds, therefore, a timeless quality to the image, which corresponds very well with that image of  imtemporality which we associate to these rock giants. However, as in every artistic endeavour, the taste might be different and some people might prefer a colour rendition…In the end, the is no real truth, and that is the funny thing!

Thanks for reading and great light to you all ;-)

(click on the image to see it bigger!)

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