Saturday, June 21, 2014

5 Lessons From A Photograph - Part 3

Tracks To Mountains - Somewhere In Alaska
Photograph by Maxine Ohlson.
I didn't intend to make this an ongoing series. It's just working out that way. Click here for part one and here for part two. Anyway, Tracks To Mountains was captured by my aunt on a recent trip to Alaska. I suggested to her that her photograph would look nice black-and-white. She suggested that I could make it black-and-white for her. So I did.

There are five lessons to be learned from this photograph.

Lesson #1 - Your Camera Doesn't Matter

The photograph was captured using a tablet. It was a 5-megapixels-on-a-tiny-sensor camera, to be exact. Very low resolution. Very small dynamic range. How-hum lens. So what? The photograph looks fine to me. And it could be enlarged to an 8"x10" print and look good hung on a wall.

Equipment is not really all that important. Use whatever camera you have, and don't worry about how good it is or isn't. It is the photographer that matters most. As Ansel Adams said, "The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it."

Lesson #2 - Competition Is Steep

My aunt is not a photographer. She doesn't know much about photography. Yet she managed an interesting photograph. I hate to use this analogy with regards to my aunt, but, as the saying goes, even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes. And there are tens of millions of "blind squirrels" with cameras making the occasional interesting photograph. This is in addition to all the "squirrels" who aren't metaphorically blind.

Competition is steep, so you must keep pushing forward. You must strive to be the best photographer that you can. You must push creative boundaries. You must have vision. Otherwise you will not stand out among the crowd.

Lesson #3 - Sometimes The Rules Are Right And Sometimes They're Not

Sometimes photography rules are right on the money and sometimes they should absolutely be broken. In Tracks To Mountains you see good use of leading lines, contrast and (to an extent) the rule of thirds. The rule that's broken is that the horizon isn't level. That uneven horizon adds uneasiness, which, along with the old tracks and gloomy sky, sets the tone.

Use photography rules when they work for the photograph and break the rules when they don't. Don't get too caught up in whether or not an image meets some criteria created by some stranger. Use what works, and don't use what doesn't work.

Lesson #4 - Great Locations Are Great For Great Photographs

I've never been to Alaska, but, as a photographer, Tracks To Mountains makes me want to go. In the very first post on the Roesch Photography Blog I suggested that an ordinary photograph of a great location might be better than a great photograph of a crummy location. In a way that's what you have here. The scene made the photograph great, pretty much in spite of the photographer.

Even better are great locations that are matched with great photographers. That's when truly great photographs are made.

Lesson #5 - If Color Isn't Important To A Photograph Then It Should Be Black & White

The original photograph was actually pretty ordinary. Why? Because it was a bland color image. Color was completely unimportant to it. Monochrome images are often more dramatic and have more of an more artful sense, so unless color is essential to a photograph, it should be converted to black-and-white.

I didn't do a lot of post-processing to the original file. I used a very light amount of unsharp mask (being careful not to overdo it), added some grain, converted the image to black-and-white and toned it, added a little contrast and cropped it slightly. Done. But from the original file to my finished black-and-white image, the difference is night and day.

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