Category Archives: Photography

No Vague Malaise

Since I haven’t been so good at creating content for this blog, I’ve made a commitment to post one photo per day to the reincarnation of A Great Sausage. No Vague Malaise is a Tumblr blog that gets its name from a sign that was posted in the parking lot of the Grimsby Public Art Gallery in Grimsby, Ontario:

Photo courtesy of Haunted Snowfort.

Composition rules, especially when it’s good

Fashion photographer Jake Garn posted up some food for thought on his blog yesterday. Suggesting that the #1 rule of photographic composition, the Rule of Thirds, is a “lazy sham,” he indicates that the Golden Ratio should instead be the imperative composition template because of its relationship to the very quick of the universe’s soul.

img_8273-300x200

This is not exactly a groundbreaking assertion, considering that Google turns up roughly 10,000 results for “35mm golden ratio.” Alex mabini at Fotogenic, for instance, claims that the genius of Henri Cartier-Bresson is due to his adherence to the Golden Ratio, and that the rule of thirds is actually a “specific application” of the Golden Ratio:

golden_10

Chris Weeks at A Photo Contributor also invokes Cartier-Bresson, and brings up the Golden Triangle as a way of justifying photos with sloping elements. He goes so far as to say that the appreciation of the Golden Ratio as an aesthetic guide might be “genetically programmed.”

One thing that all of these posts seem to have in common is that whatever guide is being used, it is not necessary to be exact – an approximation of the Golden Ratio in a photograh, for instance, will be enough to render the photo pleasing to the eye. Of course, making the assertion that the guide needs only to be approximate renders moot any argument that the Golden Ratio is preferable to the Rule of Thirds, as Jake Garn claims, since the Rule of Thirds is an approximation of the Golden Ratio. In fact, I could probably make up a rule of composition, such as the Rule of Three Blobs, and it would still be an approximation of the Golden Ratio, and I could still overlay it onto Cartier-Bresson’s photos to prove that he was a photographic genius:

3-blobs-bresson

prof_06_cartier_bresson_brasserie_l1

Clearly, Cartier-Bresson approximates the Rule of Three Blobs about as well as he approximates the Rule of Thirds.

Nonetheless, it is not my point here to argue the merits of the Golden Ratio versus those of the Rule of Thirds, or any other rule of composition for that matter. I think that what’s missing in between the step of knowing a rule of composition and applying that rule to a photo is the ability to break the image down into basic shapes inside the viewfinder. Specifically, this means taking what’s in the viewfinder:

cartier-bresson-hyeres

And simplifying it into the basic shapes that make up the scene:

cartier-bresson-hyeres1

cartier-bresson-hyeres2

cartier-bresson-hyeres3

Once the scene is composed of basic shapes, then those shapes can be manipulated and rearranged until they appear pleasing to the eye. Taking the “basic shapes” approach means that all of the elements in the photograph will be taken into account, in order to form an aesthetic whole; whereas the Rule of Thirds approach puts enough emphasis on lining up the “point of focus” with one of the thirds that the aesthetics of the frame as a whole becomes secondary. In the final product the basic shapes may show some analogy to the Golden Ratio or the Rule of Thirds, but that will be a result of the composition rather than a precursor.

Pinhole

untitled-9-large

It seems so long ago that I posted about my Pentax pinhole camera. I finally got the film developed and scanned, and to my surprise the frames that I thought would be overexposed weren’t, thanks I guess to the vast latitude of fast, cheap colour print film. Check out some of the better ones at my Flickr page.

Photography and the (Lost) Art of Seeing 2: Vignetting

I can’t trace the trajectory taken by Holgas from their invention in 1982 until they became available for sale at Urban Outfitters, but a quick browse through Flickr shows the indelible effect they and other “toy” cameras have had on (trend-driven) photographic sensibilities. Unfortunately, these sensibilities have spilled over the levees limiting the artistic use of crappy cameras to the realm of crappy cameras and into the unfortunately large underbelly of Photoshop. Yes, I have another gripe to add to my previous list, and that is the digital addition of vignetting to otherwise uninteresting photos, in order to give them the appearance of √©clat.

A wise man at Photo.net, Steven Taylor, once opined that “the photos that capture the best ratings are almost exclusively over-saturated, over- sharpened, over-processed images that, no doubt, have little resemblance to the original file.” While this could be the talking point for any number of arguments that I’m not interested in pursuing here, one manifestation of over-processing that appears repeatedly in the top photos at Photo.net is fake vignetting. Browse through some of the top photos in the gallery and, once you get past all the nudes, you see a lot of photos like these:

fake-vignetting

Similarly, if you browse the “interesting” photos on Flickr, which are selected based on “where the clickthroughs are coming from; who comments on it and when; who marks it as a favorite; its tags and many more things which are constantly changing,” you get photos like these:

fake-vignettingflickr

They’re even on Facebook:

fake-vignettingfb

The problem with fake vignetting is that it is so ubiquitous among highly rated and highly lauded photos that people seem inclined to believe that vignetting is desirable or even necessary for a good photo. Some photographers on Flickr go so far as to add vignetting to every photo they upload, as if having a photo any other way would be embarrassingly pedestrian. I sifted through hundreds of photos to get my Desert Roads group off the ground, and I was amazed at the number of otherwise good photos that were ruined by heavy-handed overprocessing. Do these people remember when vignetting was a lens aberration, that thousands of dollars went into designing and building lenses that wouldn’t have this problem? Have these people noticed that the tool they use to add vignetting is located under “lens correction”?

I can understand, and even appreciate, that some photogaphers, every once in a while, want to use a Holga to add some pizzazz to a roll of film; that photos taken with a Holga have some nostalgic aesthetic that makes them curiously attractive in moderation. But what is the attraction of adding vignetting to all photos, even those taken with a great camera? Where is the creativity in making all photos uniform? What is the lesson learned in giving nascent photographers the impression that post-processing is the be-all and end-all of good photography? Because of the overuse of Photoshop in general, and the ubiquity of fake vignetting in particular, collections of top-rated photos have become increasingly banal, and finding genuinely good, original, artistic and creative photos on the internet is becoming increasingly difficult.

Composition bias

Since I started a Flickr account a week or two ago I’ve spent a lot of time sifting through my photo folders, and I noticed that I have a tendency to prefer photos where the horizon, or whatever the main element is, slopes down to the left. I don’t necessarily take more photos that are composed like this, but I find the ones that are to be more aesthetic. I created this composite with the hope of demonstrating the slope tendency so that you can be the judge (note that this isn’t a representative sample of all my photos):

Uh oh

Drawn just endorsed fake tilt-shift photography. What with all the attention I’ve been getting lately for my vitriolic anti-fake-tilt-shift post, maybe we can collectively come up with a way to make this go away?

Does he wish his hand to show?

My rant about HDR and tilt-shift reminds me of earlier this year when I went to see the “TruthBeauty: Pictorialism and the Photograph as Art” exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery. When I sat down at one of the rest stations and started flipping through one of the art journals that was sitting on the coffee table, I was pleased to discover an article that chronicled the early history of debates over photographic post-processing, debates that go back to the 1850s (It’s here if you have access to JSTOR). I’ve heard people defend photoshop post-processing on the grounds that it’s a practice that has a long history (e.g. “Ansel Adams was the king of post-processing, and he’s the best photographer of all time”), but they tend to overlook the debates about post-processing that were raging even well before Adams’s time. If anything, citing the history of the debate makes me more steadfast in my anti-post-processing position, because after all, if people haven’t come to a conclusion after 150 years of debate, then why should we reach one now? On a related note, don’t get me started on free will.