I was around 10 years old when I was given my first camera. It was a simple Kodak rangefinder style camera that took a 110 film cassette. I only shot 2 rolls of film and never got it developed. (If only I could find that film). Over a decade later, in my 20's, I bought a second hand DSLR and started to experiment. My soul craved after an outlet to express my creative urges and this seemed to be the right fit. I shot and shot and photoshopped and shot some more but as I studied my images I felt as though my work had no structure or direction. My work was bland and unremarkable. (And I guess the argument could be made that it still is).
I began to think about how I could create a great image every time. Was there a system, a sure fire set of principles that I could follow to guarantee a brilliant image on every shutter squeeze? To cut a long story short, there isn't, or at least I couldn't find one, (let me know if you have).
That being said here are a few of my thoughts, my philosophy on why, what and how I shoot.
A latin term that literally means 'point'. Roland Barthes used this term in relation to photography and rephrased it to mean, 'pierces the viewer'. Studium was the term he juxtaposed it against. Studium was used to explain the base physical symbolism that made up the image. Punctum referred to the personal meaning that was derived by the individual.
An image of an empty block, rubble and what looks to be smoke or early morning mist in the middle of a city, disaster, 9/11 (Studium). To the individual who was there when the towers fell down the significance and meaning moves beyond what is merely visible, it pierces them, it may also pierce you and that's the point.
I have referred to it as Peculiarity. You may craft a good image, but every great and truly memorable image has punctum.
Even if it I am publishing an image to an audience of one, I make sure it contains some sort of meaning to pearce them (punctum). I try not to publish just more visual noise to add to the fray. Punctum will cause your audience to personally connect with that moment in time.
2. Aperture's primary roll is to tell the story and give meaning.
With large sensor cameras seemingly everywhere these days the overuse of shallow DoF is nauseating. And I get it, when I got my first ƒ1-point-something lens it pretty much stayed taped wide open. But I soon learned that DoF is like any other tool in my arsenal. So I use it as a tool to craft the idea and meaning behind the image. Sometimes an obscured background is perfect. Other times (most of the time) the environment assists in the semiotics of the image.
3. Use light and size to draw your audiences attention.
Typically the audience is most likely to focus on the subject that takes up the most space in an image. Alfred Hitchcock had a rule that stated,
'the size of an object in the frame should be directly related to it's importance in the story at that moment.'
The same goes with light, brightness trumps darkness, the eye is typically drawn to the brightest subject in the image. Learn to craft with light rather than to flood your image with it, learn the subtleties of lighting ratios that give pleasing results. Use silhouette and rim lighting to outline subjects. Use negative space to give the subjects in your composition room to breath.
In the image to the right the first thing I see is what looks to be a storm brewing, the environment is what grabs your attention first. It is the brightest and biggest mass in the image. Then I look to the expecting couple outlined by the light.
I hope these few thoughts on photography will help you to better understand and enjoy the craft. Tune in next friday for part 2.