The essence of photography: the ability to see and create

Original author: Bruce Barnbaum
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Hello dear readers!

If someone hasn’t noticed yet, we remind you: we have published a magnificent book by the legendary American photographer Bruce Burnbaum, “ The essence of photography: the ability to see and create

Under the cut, is a translation of Mr. Burnbaum’s thoughtful and slightly verbose article on the secrets of photographic work. We would say a teaser for the book.

Enjoy reading it.

Looking at things is simple. We constantly look at them without even thinking about it. Every now and then we cast a glance at one or another subject, but how often do we really see what we are looking at?

The book is the essence of photography. The ability to see and createtalks about how a photographer cannot be an outside observer. The photographer must capture the relationship between objects in the scene, regardless of whether it is staged (studio), street, landscape architectural or any other. The photographer must see how the elements of the scene are correlated in form, shape, tone and color, and consider these relationships in the context of a three-dimensional panorama that opens before his eyes. The photographer must recognize how the colors, lines, outlines and shades in the foreground are combined with color, outlines, etc. in the middle and background. The photographer should be able to notice that it is enough to shift ten centimeters to the right - and the whole panorama in front of the eyes will improve significantly. A portrait photographer should tell the model how he or she should sit on a light or dark background, or how to choose a more advantageous position in a complex interior or on the ground, so that the picture is more expressive. The photographer must understand the types of lighting, know the advantages and disadvantages of each of them. Lighting that is ideal in one situation may not be acceptable in another.

Light and creativity

To learn to distinguish between such a light that decorates the scene and one that only distracts attention from it, experience is required. Since the camera captures only light, the photographer must learn to see the light, understand how it emphasizes or spoils the lines, outlines, colors, dimensions and other aspects of the scene. The ability to see the light is acquired with experience, since in reality a person is used to looking not at lighting, but at objects. We have been doing this since birth. The baby learns to recognize mom, dad, and then other objects that seem important to him. But no one is trying to look at mom or at someone (anything) else as a collection of chiaroscuro. A person does not learn to correlate lines, outlines, figures - for example, how are their mother’s oval and father’s face similar and how do they differ. No, a person is eyeing facial features as such. So, the ability to consider the elements of a particular scene in the context of their illumination, as a combination of lines, shapes and contours, is by no means acquired by itself. Photographic vision needs to be studied.

This is difficult because the eye and the camera “see” differently. When you study the scene with the naked eye, the iris expands so that you can better see the darkest parts of the scene, it narrows so that the brightest spots do not cut the eye so. So, in essence, you look at any scene with a variable aperture. But when you release the shutter of the camera, the whole scene is captured in one aperture - the one you set. If you do not understand the technical intricacies of contrast control in the process of preparing a picture (we can talk about traditional film exposure or digital shooting), then you risk losing a lot of information that you expected to save in the final image.

The problem is further exacerbated due to the fact that the camera has only one lens, and a person has binocular vision. That is, you simultaneously see the scene with your left and right eyes, so it acquires a depth that the camera does not capture. Try to examine the scene with one eye - then you will see that its depth will weaken significantly. If you want to convey the depth of the picture, you must learn how the “one-eyed” camera “sees” the scene under different lighting conditions, and learn how to recognize which lighting helps emphasize the depth of the scene.

All this is quite complicated. Surprisingly, many people think: "I picked up a camera - here I am a photographer." It’s the same as saying: “I have a pen - here I am a writer.” Everything is completely wrong. Photography is treacherously complex. But some have an innate talent for photographing, and master this art faster.
People who were interested in my seminars, or some of my students often said that they had "an eye on." Some really do. As a rule, they mean that they can find beautiful scenes. And although I do not like to disappoint them at all, it turns out that almost everyone can find a suitable scene. A person who first finds himself in the Yosemite Valley will almost pay attention to how beautiful it is. But for most people, after that it will seem that they have a "trained eye." No, it's not that simple. An observant photographer can catch such interconnections between forms that are simply striking if you look at the scene from one angle, but are not so noticeable, it is worth changing the point of view a little. “The eye is trained” means that you understand in what weather or in what kind of lighting this scene looks extraordinary, and under what conditions - rather discreetly. An experienced photographer can quickly notice an unusual and especially interesting scene at a busy intersection in the bustle that reigns there almost around the clock. With experience, you will learn to notice the moments when the strength and type of light falling on a person’s face, coupled with an interesting turn of the head, allows you to make a gorgeous portrait that stands out from the majority of studio shots or photographs of “VIP-persons” giving an “important speech”, which can be found on the 6th page of the daily newspaper.

To create good shots, you need to learn to see the light and the interconnections of objects in the scene. Learning to see how a camera is. It would be great if the camera could see as a person, but, unfortunately, this is not an option.

Personal interests as a reflection of creativity

When mastering the art of seeing the light and capturing the interconnections between objects, you also need to pick up a theme and choose a rhythm. Ansel Adams liked the landscapes, or rather, the mountains, and his best photographs, no doubt - just those that depict such magnificent landscapes. Perhaps he would become a good portrait photographer, but the portraits in his performance would definitely not be compared with such landscapes, and he would not have won the fame that he has. Perhaps August Zander would have become a good landscape photographer, but the portraits of German workers he created are stunning, exciting, piercing images. These and other great photographers have always gravitated towards a certain genre, which was of particular importance to them, gradually moving away from other topics. That's why they got such outstanding work.

My interests evolved from landscape photography to abstraction, and then to monumental ancient architecture. Throughout my career, I tried to expand my existing interests without completely departing from them. Others act differently. Someone immediately identifies with interests and always adheres to them. Some easily change interests, discarding the old and sticking to the new. Others start with diverse interests and gradually narrow the spectrum to one or two topics that they work with until the end of their years. Which approach is right? Which one is wrong? It turns out that all options are good, no more or less winning. Your creative method should meet your interests. What is useful to me may not suit you or another photographer - and vice versa. So you can formulate your own interests, find the canvas, your unique creative path. So you acknowledge that your interests can change, expand and become more specific. Understand that you and only you can determine what you want from the photo. It is up to you to decide how it will look, what you want to demonstrate, what to avoid, what to emphasize - in other words, what your photo should tell. She is yours, and over time you will develop your style and course.

Some teachers of photo art are pushing students to limit themselves to some narrow area of ​​interest. I am against this approach. Each person is multifaceted. Of course, in life we ​​have many interests; how to limit yourself to just one interest in photography?

Creative Images - Follow the Photographic Rhythm

There are photographers who need to choose a genre, explore it, navigate there and gradually understand how to work in it - and only then they start to get pictures-masterpieces. I knew several photographers who went through such an evolution. Their first shots did not shine, although the photographer himself was simply glowing with enthusiasm for the chosen subject. But time passed, they tuned in the right way, their photographs became more interesting, refined, deep. Photographers found their way and moved along it with incredible strength, grace and skill.

Harrison Branch, who headed the Department of Photography for many years at the University of Oregon, first exploring a new place where he was going to take photographs, at first he came there without a camera. If the place seemed interesting to him, he would return there - again without a camera - to better consider all the nuances. Finally, after several visits, he already came with a camera and took pictures.

I do not work at all like Harrison. In fact, I could not have worked like Harrison. At joint seminars, we discussed such a difference in approaches with our students. Usually I quickly notice things and react actively to them, or I don’t react at all. Once in a new place, I take my strongest pictures there with almost no preparation. Gradually exploring this place, I find material for more delicate work.
I don’t know why I manage to see all the most interesting almost immediately - but it turns out! Again and again I find myself on this. Which method is more correct: my spontaneous reaction or Harrison's thorough analysis? Both are correct. Harrison's method suits him perfectly. He knows his rhythm, and works best in his own manner. I am in mine. You will have to develop your own style. It is likely that my method and Harrison's method are two extremes, and some intermediate options are suitable for others. Excellent. You need to work at a speed convenient for you, in an optimal rhythm. Get lost - fly out of the game. Strive for your comfort zone.

How tools affect creativity

In many ways, digital photography has completely revolutionized the approach to photography. Typically, the photographer looked at first, then shot, taking time to compose the image, looking for relationships in the frame, and only then releasing the shutter - even if he specialized in such a dynamic genre as street photography. Today, the majority of digital photographers take photos first and then watch them. First, the image is exposed, then they check on the camera display what happened. With digital cameras, this style of work is natural, because if you don’t like the shot you just delete it. This cannot be done on film, you are constantly moving from the previous frame to the next. Digital photography is definitely liberating, allows you to shoot more, but it's a two-edged sword,

In my opinion, the “photographic rhythm” is something else. You just want, hope, press the button, and then look what happened. There is no personal rhythm here. Just the pursuit of quantity, which, with any luck, will begin to turn into quality. I must admit that I myself can remove several digital exposures, but almost always the fact is that I did not guess the contrast, which, as it seemed to me, would fit within the chosen shutter speed - but it turned out to be too sharp. Or for other similar reasons. But not because of the unsuccessful composition and not because the picture seriously hurts the eye.

The essence of photography

Of course, this is not all. Learn self-expression through photography, so that the pictures are meaningful and even a little heavy. Here you can not do without visual research, experimentation and, of course, without personal satisfaction. You need to find a stage, staged or natural, and recognize what potential it has for your self-expression. You need to strive to create no less impressive pictures than Ancel Adams, Edward or Brett West, Cornell Capa, Imogen Cunningham or Sebastian Salgado

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