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The Photographer's Vision:…
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The Photographer's Vision: Understanding and Appreciating Great…

by Michael Freeman

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0240815181, Paperback)

Amazon.com Exclusive: "What Makes a Good Photograph," an Excerpt from Photographer's Vision

Takes directly from real life
Although the camera can be used to construct images, particularly in studio work, the great strength of photography is that the physical world around us provides the material. This elevates the importance of the subject, the event; and the reporting of this is obviously something at which photography excels. At the same time, however, this ease of capture reduces the value of accurate representation, because it has become commonplace--very different from the early view of painting, when Leonardo da Vinci wrote in his notebook that "painting is most praiseworthy which is most like the thing represented." Instead, the way in which photographers document--the style and treatment--becomes more significant.At a deeper level, there is an inherent paradox between depicting reality and yet being something completely apart as a freestanding image. Other arts, like painting, poetry, and music, are obvious as constructs. There is no confusion in anyone's mind that a poem or a song have originated anywhere else but in the mind of their creator, and that the experience in life that they refer to has been filtered through an imagination, and that some time has been taken to do this. In this respect, photographs do create confusion. The image is, in most cases, so clearly of a real scene, object, or person, and yet it remains just an image that can be looked at quietly in completely divorced circumstances. It is of real life, and at the same time separate. This contradiction offers many possibilities for exploration, and much contemporary fine- art photography does just that, including making constructions to mimic real-life content.

Fast and easy
Photography can explore and capture all aspects of life--and increasingly so as the equipment improves. One example of this is the increased light sensitivity of sensors, which has made night and low-light imagery possible. We take this pretty much for granted, but it is a strong driving force behind photography's immense popularity. Little or no preparation is needed to capture an image, which means that there are many, many opportunities for creative expression. As digital cameras make this easier and more certain technically, it also focuses more and more attention on the composition and on each person's particular vision. Or at least it should, provided we don't get sidetracked by the "bright, shiny toy" component in photography. "Photography is the easiest art," wrote photographer Lisette Model, "which perhaps makes it the hardest." There is unquestionably less craftsmanship in photography in the sense of time and physical effort than there is in other visual arts, something many professionals feel defensive about. But in its place, the act of creation is extended afterwards to reviewing and selecting already-taken images. As well as editing, as this is called, the processing and printing of images is also a later and important part of the process.

Can be taken by anyone
This never happened in art before. Photography is now practiced nearly universally, and not just to record family moments, either. It's no longer a case of artists and professionals on one side, audience on the other. Digital cameras, sharing across the internet, and the decline of traditional print media have made photography available to almost everyone as a means of creative expression. Nor do these many millions of photographers feel bound by the opinions of a few. Many are perfectly happy with the opinions of their peers, as audience and photographers are usually the same people. All of this makes contemporary photography wide-ranging and complex, with different and competing standards and values. Creating good photographs does not depend on a career plan, which for all save professionals is good news. What is less good is that a large number of images tends to confuse any judgement of excellence, and the internet is awash with imagery.

Has a specific look
Whatever choice of paper texture and coating you make for a print, the image itself is completely without a third dimension. The frame is a window, and this sets photography apart from painting and from any kind of imagery created by hand. In many ways, this lack of physical presence makes screen display perfect, and this is increasingly how most photographs get viewed. In terms of its look, photography begins with the viewer's expectation that the contents are "real"--taken from real life. In fact, we relate the appearance of a photograph to two things: how we ourselves see, and how we have learned to accept the look of a photograph. We are very sensitive to the naturalism and "realism" of a photograph. The further that a photographer takes the image away from this, by complicated processing or unusual post-production techniques, the less the image is photographic. This is not a criticism, just a statement of obvious fact. The basic photographic look relies on the assumption that very little has been done to the image since it was captured. Photography also has its own vocabulary of imagery, not found anywhere else. This includes such things as differential focus, a limited dynamic range, motion blur, flare artefacts, less-than-fully-saturated colors, and the possibility of rendering the image entirely in black and white.

Photographer's Vision
From the series Four Seasons in One Day, 2007, by Laura El-Tantawy
A warm afternoon graces central London as pedestrians cool down with ice cream cones. Differential focus, and even some slight motion blur, together with the smoothness of the tonal range, make this a very “photographic” image, despite the ways in which the photographer plays with illusion and juxtaposition. It presents itself as capture from the real world, rather than a manipulated illustration, and it’s this given that allows El-Tantawy to experiment and to intrigue with her distinct way of seeing.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:20 -0400)

In The Photographer's Eye, Michael Freeman showed what a photographer needs to do in the instant before the shutter is released. In the sequel, The Photographer's Mind, he explained the way that professional photographers think a picture through before taking it.… (more)

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