Sunday, June 17, 2012

Giving Credit...

...WHERE CREDIT is due.

Recently I wrote about landscape photography, in the article Composition, Part 2 - Composition and Subject in Landscape Photography. But I failed to mention someone who helped me out tremendously, not only by often driving me around to locations, and providing moral support and encouragement, but also by pointing out good camera positions. I owe a lot to Tina, whose photos can be found at

Composition, Part 2 - Composition and Subject in Landscape Photography

A WHILE BACK, I got a somewhat difficult assignment: I was to photograph a considerable number of city parks for a coffee table photo book. While I liked my architectural photos, I’d always been rather disappointed with my landscapes, as I mentioned in an earlier article, Composition, Part 1 - the Frame. My publisher, Reedy Press, must have thought I was up to the task, even though I was uncertain. But with a year to study, experiment, and shoot, I was able to successfully produce many good photos. Certainly I’m no master of the subject, but I think it might be useful to share some of what I learned while shooting this book.

St Louis Parks cover_high

The final book, St. Louis Parks, turned out well, and it is well-recieved by the public. Please click here if you would like to purchase a copy, autographed by me.

My publisher selected the photo above for the cover of the book, and I generally like it. It isn’t perfect — the sky appears to have a slight greenish tone, especially when seen under fluorescent illumination (although it is correctly white-balanced, and I didn’t alter the hue in post-processing), and the image is a bit darker than I’d like. The formal symmetry, with the fountain and building centered with each other and with the frame, is pleasing to me, but it is slightly off — although this is offset by the presence of the spine, not seen here, on the left hand of the book. What makes the photo, I think, is the presence of teenagers enjoying the fountain; having human subjects in a landscape photo is often appealing. The photo is technically OK, has a good subject, and is composed adequately, making it, in the opinion of my publisher, good enough to be on the cover of a book.

Generally speaking, there is a certain lightness of spirit or relief you can get when you leave certain decisions to others — were I to have selected the photos for the book, I think I would have agonized too much over them, seeing little else than flaws. Instead, my publisher selected images that he thought had general appeal, and he usually selected my favorites. Artists are often not the best judges of their works. Getting a sense of what is good takes understanding, time, and experience, as well as receiving the good judgement of others.

The first step towards getting better in photography, or any art, I think, is to understand why your works are disappointing, and understanding what makes good images superior. This can be exceptionally difficult, for oftentimes it is hard to put vague feelings into words.  Determining what actions to take can be difficult also, for it requires an understanding of the technology. For example, you may find that your photographs are too yellow, but you have to understand color theory in order to know that you must make the photos more blue to cancel out the yellow, and you have to understand manual white balance on the camera, or the use of post-processing on the computer to correct for this flaw.