Thoughts on a Photograph
I have a love/hate relationship with thinking about my photography. I love the analysis, the dissection, but I anguish at the thought that I really have no consistent style or recognizable "look," which becomes evident through that same analysis and dissection. But, to paraphrase Mr. Gump, Analysis is like a box of Chocolates, you never know what you'll get.
JFM: So cropping to composition is very important to you. How does that impact the "content" of your photos? In other words, you're conscious of the frame. Is that something you think about? A friend who's had a grand career as a commercial photographer (think Barbie) likes my compositions. But I am not much of a nature photographer, and I think it's especially because I don't get many photos "right" without the cropping tool. In high school and college, almost always as an editor of the school's paper or some page of it, I was obsessed with cropping. I could do it better than almost anyone else, but mostly, in those days, because I was better at math than other editors. (You may remember cropping wheels, &c.) But I found that nature is harder to crop than urbanism is. In fact, it's often resistant. Unless...what? What do you think about all that?
JWS: When I compose in camera I have a general idea of how I want the image to rest in the frame. For the North Beach pier with lampposts I knew I'd go with 16x9 (my current favorite) and allowed enough breathing space to account for that then cropped top and bottom. Most of the time for landscape it's top and bottom and I compose to capture R/L correctly. For vertical compositions I don't think about it as much but then in LR (Lightroom) I'll see how 8x10 and 1x1 look. I'm much more cognizant nowadays of allowing extra space around my point of interest so I can move it around a bit in post. Some consider it a sin, or sloppy, but I'm not that much of a purist and as a viewer of art and photography I don't ask whether it was cropped or not.
Just for the record, this is a San Diego pier? Lots of North Beaches, some have piers.
I don't mean to push any point, but I do see the logic of this pushing, this compressing the vertical beyond a usual format like 16x9 (which I think is not 16x10, which is closer to a golden ratio, because of computer screens). I think you're getting at something I think about too in a photograph: as you get away from a golden ratio, which is about as "natural" looking as I think we get, does it mean we're stepping a little back from nature? Obviously when you have a pier and clouds and sea and lampposts that is not nature anyway, but a blending of nature and manufacture. In short, I'm thinking this photo works with the shave off of the top and bottom because there's inclusion of the human manufactured (the pier, the lampposts), where as one that was a completely natural landscape might suffer if cropped this way. Do you think in those terms or am I overthinking it?
Seriously, I engage photos that way: I say to myself something like, "OK, why does it look like that, and not some other way?" It may turn out that I vaunt the golden ratio a little more than you; to me, if it is just laying around all throughout nature, it maybe means that at least it makes us feel comfortable because we are so familiar with it. But then you get into, "Why am I stepping outside of the box to do it this way?" When we step outside of a common ratio, it's usually to emphasize linearity, even flatness. But in this photo's case, it's not only to frame the lamps more tightly, I think it's also to grab onto the fact of the expanse of the sea itself. It's hard to imagine this photo any narrower, and I think that it's the sea, which is barely present, that would suffer most if it were. "Instinctively?" Maybe. But when you get into the stretching of space between the lamps – hey, they could have been moved closer together by a photo from another angle – you may actually be acknowledging the presence of the sea, which would be too diminished were it some other way.
At other angles the point of the storm clouds would not line up with the corner the railings make. :-) Here I am 'thinking' again. A few things caught my eye when I entered the pier's empty space. 1. The linear patterns in the wooden decks and how can I line them up in a composition: Go for a low angle to juxtapose the deck/cloud textures equally. 2. The lamp posts, far apart, can I get two of them in the composition. 3. The storm clouds seem to create a wedge off in the distance. Can I line it up with the corner of the pier. 4. Place the point of the clouds just above the railing's point, leave space. 5. I'm glad I'm alone here. These thoughts happen in some scrambled order and eventually place me where the scene makes sense. Obviously there are compromises to be made and if they're done well the composition ends up working. I have 5-6 pics where it didn't work at all. The odd lines made by railings and the horizon and the vertical of the lamp post cause difficulty in making the composition work. Even for this image the grain in the deck doesn't work as well as something closer to a leading line would.
I want to thank Mr. Mailander for his input and getting me to think more about my image and thanks to that my golf swing is coming along just fine.
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