When the world saw the very first photographs, the idea of being able to capture the world as we see it took off rapidly. In a relatively short period of time, film photography evolved from black and white to color photography. From there, it made motion pictures possible, allowing us to see the world from our couches at home. When the first digital camera was invented, little did the inventors know that it would later revolutionize the world of photography and media in general. Today, billions of images are captured and shared between people and the number of image recording devices is growing at a rapid, unstoppable rate. There are cameras literally everywhere – in our mobile phones, homes, computers, cars and even in wearables like eyeglasses and watches. We trust these devices to give us a glimpse of reality, documented moments of time that we can go back to and review. And yet with the fast growth, ease of access and use of image and video manipulation tools, we have been seeing more footage that can twist reality: whether we are looking at popular magazine covers, Internet sites or news media, the imagery we see is getting harder and harder to trust, since it is being altered, faked or staged. Media turned out to be a powerful tool to influence and manipulate people, which brings up the question and the importance of ethics in photography. Should photography only be allowed to display reality, or is it acceptable to alter images for presentation purposes? And if manipulation is acceptable, what are its limits, if any? These are very hard questions to answer, but with some common sense, we can create a set of ethical rules and guidelines that should help photographers in determining what’s acceptable and what’s not.
In this final installment to this series, I have chosen to discuss one of my favorite topics in photography: close-ups. My goals with this article are to provide a basic understanding of light and exposure when photographing a subject at close range, the rationale for exposure loss during magnification, and guidance on how to correct for this exposure loss. To illustrate these principles, I will share my own empiric observations, review the pertinent calculations that govern magnification and exposure loss compensation, and discuss select photographs that I have made at close range. Hopefully, this article will help beginning and advanced photographers grasp the physics of light at close range and take command and control of magnification and exposure compensation. Although I crafted this article from the framework of a photographer using traditional close-up and macro equipment (i.e., bellows, extension tubes), the use of an external light meter (i.e., non-TTL metering), and continuous lighting (e.g., natural light, lamps), the tenets and technical considerations for close-up exposure compensation are still relevant to those photographers who prefer automation, TTL metering, and electronic flash. Finally, I will wrap up the discussion by sharing some thoughts on the use of film as a tool for learning the visualization process.
Better technique and appropriate gear can help you take better photos, but that will only take you so far. To reach the next level in this pursuit you need to become a student of photography.
A student of photography is somebody who dives into the pool of photo history, soaks in the images of the masters, and seeks out the best work and wisdom of his or her contemporaries. A good student realizes that observing the work of others is crucial to one’s own development as an artist, not to copy those he or she studies, but to discover his or her own eye. I’m a ruthless tech geek, soaking in as much info as I can about reciprocity failure, signal to noise ratios, circles of confusion and the like. But I spend just as much time pouring over photo books from the great photographers. The kind of books I’m talking about don’t have exposure metadata listed with the pictures. That isn’t important – only the emotional impact of the image counts. A good photo makes you wonder about the subject, not the exposure settings.
Since the early days of film, panoramic photography has been synonymous with landscape and architectural images, and sometimes with other genres like street and wildlife photography. By combining two horizontal frames of film, typically 120 medium format, some film cameras actually shot panorama photographs by design. Most of these cameras emerged in the latter half of the twentieth century, bringing the panoramic format to the public eye. The panorama had existed long before this time, of course, but its popularity has only grown — and with good reason. Panoramas are fun and dramatic, and their subtleties are just as important in today’s mostly-digital age as they were during the heyday of film. In this article, I will discuss some of the important but less-common benefits of taking panorama images, as well as sharing a set of my photographs from Iceland in the classic 6×17 aspect ratio. If you are new to panoramas, you might enjoy reading our general panorama tutorial first.
In this fourth installment to this series, I have selected a series of photographs that I made with long exposures on three film stocks to share in the context of a discussion of film reciprocity departure and the use of filters in color film photography. Although I had originally intended to include a discussion of exposure corrections for close-ups in Part IV, in the interest of brevity I decided to defer this topic to a final Part V to this series. Of note, reciprocity departure and filtration in color film photography are complex and interesting topics. This article is not meant to be a comprehensive treatment of both topics, but rather an introduction that I may expand upon in future articles.
Less philosophy and more actual photography this time, leading the eye into a scene is one of the tenets of composition (at least for me) and there is a multitude of ways in which this can happen. An image of something or somewhere can be a more rewarding experience for the viewer if they are led into, through or across it, spending longer to absorb and take in the scene. Advanced photographers will (I hope) forgive the simplicity of this article; I am no kind of expert on composition but I thought I would share some ideas.
Famous scenes — landscapes, wildlife, buildings — are famous for a reason: they are spectacular, and often easy to access. You have seen these photographs, undoubtedly: a sepia-toned photograph of the Eiffel Tower, perhaps, or a dusty herd of wildebeest in the sun. Glacier Point at sunset, and Mesa Arch at sunrise. These are some of the most incredible sights on the planet, and it is no wonder that photographers flock to them; in many cases, photographers are the very reason that these sights are on the map in the first place. I have nothing against photographers who focus on these beautiful scenes, and I wholeheartedly admire those who photograph them well. Indeed, as photographers, we too often get caught in the idea of taking unique photographs at a famous location, when the most beautiful scene may be the one staring us in the face.
Your choice of focal length will affect what you see. Would you agree with that? What if I also said that your choice of focal length will affect how you see? That’s a whole different story, now isn’t it? Instead of discussing how focal length affects your view when you look into the viewfinder, I want to talk about how focal length can affect how you look at everything around you before you ever even see it in the viewfinder.
I have never liked the phrase “rules of composition.” To me, it seems too formal, suggesting that such a complex topic as composition can be boiled down to a few quick tips. So, in a blatant attempt to out-do John Sherman’s provocative “Is Nikon’s New 500mm FL Too Sharp?” title, I have aimed this article at the heart of photography school’s most basic lesson in composition: the rule of thirds.
In this third installment to this series on visualization and film photography, I have selected a sample of photographs (mostly made in the 35mm format) to share and discuss. Although I heavily focused on technical aspects in film photography in Part I and Part II of this series, my goal with this article is to provide a more aesthetic description and simplified approach to the construction of photographs. I thought it would be of interest to beginning 35mm photographers to briefly discuss some of the film choices available. Although the choices of film stocks have dwindled over the years, fortunately there remain a plethora of excellent professional and consumer 35mm films from which to choose and enjoy. Even though I have used many – but not all – of the available film stocks, I cannot possibly discuss all of them here. For one particular film stock, I am delighted to share a pair of interviews with more experienced photographers that readers might find interesting and helpful. Of note, Photography Life contributor Vaibhav Tripathi has previously shared his experiences and beautiful photographs made on 35mm with Fuji’s Velvia 50 and Kodak’s Portra stocks in his inspiring photo essays on Acadia National Park, landscape photography, and Waterfalls of New England series that may also be of interest.