On understanding photography mechanics

For the first few decades of taking photos I was content to understand apertures and film speeds, the ‘rule of thirds’ and so on. It was while I was looking at possible lenses to add to my kit that I realized there’s a completely new world of photography mechanics I know nothing about. Mechanics of more than just lenses and cameras–this includes the mechanics of light, color, motion; the space where photos are presented; the human eye, not to mention human brain. If I want to improve my photography, it’s time for me to go back to school.

Jonathon Delacour sent me a link (discovered through Reid Reviews) to a set of essays written by Ben Lifson. These essays focus on composition and utilizing the world of non-photographic art as instruction material. Lifson’s use of sketches to accentuate those aspects of a photograph under discussion is fascinating and informative. Intimidating a bit, as I realize how little I do understand about composition (and shadows and subjects…).

I especially like Lifson’s 4th essay where he talks the importance of keeping ‘picture’ in our minds:

The alpha and omega of our efforts are pictures. “Picture” is the defining term.

Saying “picture” instead of either “image” or “photograph” is one of the most useful things you can do to improve your work. “Image” confuses the issue. Any image of something, inso far as it represents the thing, is as successful as any other.

I’ve never seen this before, and I understand exactly what he’s saying. If we’re taking a photo of a house, it is a picture of a house. As such, it’s essential to only capture that which is essential to the picture. If the hillside behind the house has pretty purple and yellow flowers and would make a nice ‘image’ when framed with the house, it’s still not a picture of the house.

Excellent set of essays.

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