Photographing the World Around You: A Visual Design Workshop for Film and Digital Photography / Edition 2

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Overview

See the world in a fresh light.

In its Second Edition — inspired by the participants of Patterson's workshops from North America to South Africa to the UK, Australia and New Zealand — of this classic text, Freeman Patterson offers readers valuable information on the essential building blocks of visual design, including:

  • Light
  • Shape
  • Line
  • Texture
  • Perspective.

The book provides clear and concise instructions on putting these building blocks together to create balance, proportion and rhythm in any photograph. A separate chapter features valuable advice for evaluating one's own photographs.

Extended captions include valuable technical information and personal commentary reflective of the superb craftsmanship and stunning photography from one of the most celebrated photographers worldwide. The second edition is updated to include technical guidelines adapted for both digital and film photographers.

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Editorial Reviews

Garry Black Photography (GarryBlack.com)
I don't think you can go wrong.... Again Freeman's emphasis is on composition and "seeing" the world with fresh eyes.
— Garry Black
Garry Black Photography (GarryBlack.com) - Garry Black
I don't think you can go wrong with any of Freeman's books.... Again Freeman's emphasis is on composition and "seeing" the world with fresh eyes.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781552636121
  • Publisher: Key Porter Books
  • Publication date: 9/1/2004
  • Edition description: Second Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 168
  • Product dimensions: 8.25 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.37 (d)

Meet the Author

Freeman Patterson began to work in photography in 1965. He co-founded the Namaqualand Photographic Workshops in southern Africa and has given numerous workshops in the United States, Israel, England, New Zealand, and Australia. He has published eleven books and has written for many national magazines. In 2001, Patterson received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the North American Nature Photography Association.

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Read an Excerpt

Learning to explore

This book about observing and photographing the world around you is a gift to you from my students—hundreds and hundreds of photographers who have attended workshops over the years, contributed their own ideas, and tackled assignments with enthusiasm, imagination, and determination. They have inspired me with their remarkable images of everyday things and given me the direct impetus for this project by encouraging me to consider an assignment—oriented book on the subject.

As much as possible, I have based the structure of the book on the week-long workshops I conduct with teaching partners in both New Brunswick Canada, and Namaqualand, South Africa. Enrolment in these is limited to 15 or 16 participants, and in the last 30 years women and men of all ages—from 10 to 91—and levels of expertise have taken part. The only assumption I have made here is that readers have a basic knowledge of how cameras—film or digital—and lenses work.

Most workshop days include three distinct instructional components: 1/ an illustrated lecture or two; 2/ a field trip or assignment; and 3/ evaluation of photographs made by the students on the previous day.

I begin my classroom teaching the first day with informal remarks about barriers to seeing and ways to demolish them, and with a comparison of linguistic design (the ways in which we arrange and use words) and visual design. Light is the raw material of photography, and I discuss how the two kinds of contrasts it produces—those of tone and those of color—are the primary visual elements of any composition, actually creating the lines, shapes, textures, andperspective (the secondary visual elements) on which all visual expression depends. On subsequent days, as in the next two chapters of this book, I consider each of these building blocks in turn and then present methods of arranging them in picture space for the clear expression of facts, ideas, and feelings. Near the end of the week I consolidate and review everything by showing students images I've made in a wide variety of situations and discussing how I applied the principles described in my lectures.

Since I can't accompany you on your field trips, in the evaluation and assignment sections of this book I offer you a selection of my own photographs made in the field, with the same kinds of suggestions I offer workshop students—key opportunities for dealing with particular subject matter, playing with design, trying different lenses, and ways of overcoming potential difficulties with technical derails like lighting and exposure. My intention is to open up possibilities you might not think of on your own, to help you discard old habits of seeing.

After many years of teaching photography and visual design, I've come to realize that most participants regard photography workshops, consciously or unconsciously, as a passport, an opportunity to gain access to something far more important than the medium itself—their creative selves. Sometimes their desire to grow is so deeply buried under an accumulation of personal baggage that it's difficult to acknowledge its existence, much less to do anything about it. This is where an instructor or a friend who is sensitive to the situation can help.

I remember a morning several years ago when I was in the field with an amateur photographer who had enrolled in a workshop as a retirement gift to herself. On this particular morning, she wanted to make pictures of an especially beautiful stand of wild rhododendron. Although she obviously loved the flowers and listened as I encouraged her to try various approaches to photographing them, every composition she showed me was more or less the same as all the others—a small section of shrubbery viewed from her normal height, a definite center of interest always placed in a "one-third position" (that is, one-third up or across the picture plane), and maximum depth of field to ensure that every last leaf and blossom was in focus. Some of her compositions were quite pleasing but, considered as a group, they all followed her rigid formula, completely masking her feelings about the subject matter. She might as well have been photographing a car, an old barn, or clouds at sunset for all the difference it made in the way she composed her pictures. After nearly an hour of trying, unsuccessfully, to loosen her up, I decided to try some shock treatment.

"Alice," I remarked, "I bet you spent your entire life teaching English—grammar, sentence structure, and things like that." She stared at me with a look of complete shock, like a child caught in the act of doing something expressly forbidden, and murmured in a voice so low I could scarcely hear her, "How did you know?"

"Because," I replied, "you love rules too much; you're afraid to experiment, to let go." And then she said something that made me infinitely sad: "It's just that I don't have any imagination."

At that point I wanted to grab both her arms and teach her how to dance. I wanted to waltz her in great, wide arcs through a field of early daisies, to swing her in circles above the shrubbery and then, exhausted, to lie on the grass as we peered up through the canopy of green leaves and pink rhododendron flowers at tiny patches of blue sky. Instead, I said, "Nobody can survive for more than a minute without using imagination. Your problem isn't a lack of imagination, but an inability to relax. You're scared stiff of trying anything new for fear that you'll make a mistake, but the whole point of your photographing these flowers is to focus on their beauty, not on your uptightness. The flowers are the subject matter, not your worries and fears." Emboldened by my own candor, I continued on in high gear. "Of course, you'll make mistakes. Great big fat ones. You'll come up with some terrible compositions, and you'll expose some good ones badly. You may even become so frustrated that you'll just want to go back to your cabin. But, if you'll accept some guidance and a few specific suggestions from me, I'm willing to hang in for another hour with you. I can guarantee that you'll make a couple of pictures that excite you and that you'll feel good about what you've accomplished."

Alice listened. Even better, she heard. "Should I choose a new camera position?" she asked. "Yes," I replied. "Instead of standing on the outside, why not move right in among the leaves and the blossoms?"

Moments later, surrounded by foliage and flowers on all sides, she called out, "I can't get everything in focus." And then she added, "Maybe I shouldn't even try, but just use shallow depth of field instead."

"Excellent idea," I called back. She was already using her imagination.

We're all like Alice—perhaps not all the time, or even most of the time, but usually too much of the time. By seeing and doing things repeatedly in the same way, we fail to appreciate the newness and freshness that we can experience in every environment, however familiar, and we risk closing down our creative selves. It may take a conscious act of will on our part, some shoving by a friend, even a shock of some sort to make us open our eyes and our minds to what's around us every day of our lives. But once we admit to ourselves that far fields are not necessarily greener, that visual exploration is possible wherever we happen to be, we can make good photographs of anything, anywhere.

Over the years I've frequently chosen a familiar object, scene, situation, or person and promised myself that I would keep exploring visually until I'd made at least twenty good compositions. (I have no upper limit.) Quite often I've selected subjects that, initially, didn't interest me, thus making the assignments more challenging than subjects I'm naturally attracted to, and also increasing the potential for greater discovery. One such assignment was to photograph in an enclosed porch at home. It was early March; I'd been working at my desk every day for three weeks, when what I really wanted was to go outside and makes some photographs. On my first free day, the weather was foul; gale-force Arctic winds accompanied by rain and hail battered the landscape, soaked my equipment, and forced me back indoors. As I pulled off my wet clothes, I looked around the porch and thought that I really must clean up this place. The accumulated jumble of old work clothes, motorcycle gear, boots of various sorts, and general debris offended my natural sense of order. However, instead of cleaning up the mess, I decided to photograph it. To make sure I wouldn't give up easily, I upped my minimum number of required exposures from twenty to fifty and set to work.

The first compositions did not come easily—as they seldom do with such assignments. I struggled to relate to the situation by examining it from many points of view and by analyzing both my positive and negative feelings about what I observed. As I kept on exploring, I began to experience a rising sense of excitement that spurred my on. However, it would be dishonest to claim that I made any outstanding pictures that day. In fact, eventually I discarded all the photographs. But the exercise paid rich dividends in several ways and I'm still benefiting from having done it.

The situation forced me to consider just what makes a jumble look like a jumble, for example, and helped me determine ways I could convey confusion and messiness visually, rather than trying to impose order on subject matter that is not orderly by nature or circumstance. Yet, at the same time, I began to perceive a small degree of organization in the chaos. Lines were repeated; shapes recurred. Spaces between similar objects were not consistently different, and tonal highlights in leather and metal objects created points of visual emphasis. By alternately scanning the entire scene and then examining specific areas, I began to see how the overall appearance of messiness, jumble, or confusion actually depends on latent patterns. This awareness has proved since to be very helpful to me in observing and photographing many natural situations—carpets of scattered autumn leaves, fields of grasses being tossed by the wind, rocks strewn at the base of a cliff, for example.

On that miserable March day when photographing in a messy porch was preferable to shooting outdoors, I had excellent opportunities to study the ways that indirect window light, falling on different materials—wood, plastic, leather, denim, metal—created a range of tones from almost white to pure black. I remember being amazed at how great the contrasts were, even though the various tonal areas had no sharp edges, as they would have had in direct sunlight. Also, I started to look carefully at the folds, the rips and tears, and the weave of the threads in old jeans and denim jackets. I didn't allow myself to make pictures of them that day, but on several occasions since then I've given myself—and workshop participants—jeans or a denim jacket as an assignment. I've found that carefully observing and photographing these common items of clothing, familiar to everybody, have been as beneficial to my seeing as any other assignment I've tackled. In addition to these and other benefits that I received from doing the porch assignment, I refreshed my working knowledge of my camera and lenses. After three weeks at a desk, I needed to get back in shape technically as well as visually.

Some people might have regarded my messy porch as a visual wasteland. Certainly nobody, considering it by any ordinary standards, would have termed the porch "a creative assignment." Yet for me, that's precisely what it became—just as your porch or kitchen or garage or a bit of lawn can become for you, provided you're willing to explore like a child.

This means being open to "going back," as it were. It means lying in the grass and observing fluffy white clouds scudding across the sky; it means listening to music you've never heard before, perhaps because it was written long after you grew up; it means believing that a messy porch is a world waiting to be discovered. By regularly feeding your visual imagination no matter where you are, you strengthen your capacity for formulating and articulating new ideas, which in turn enables you to focus your energy creatively into worthwhile projects and directions. Those of you who are open to the world around you, who are willing to give up your preconceptions of how things "should" look, and who have wedded this openness to a good working knowledge of visual design can make extraordinary breakthroughs.

Finally, although I can teach you skills I have learned from experience, only you know why you make photographs, what you hope to accomplish through them. It may be a desire to communicate your love to friends and family or a deep interest in ecology, a wish to explore your dark side or an impulse to create images that evoke the same feelings as a favorite piece of music. The next time you are composing an image, ask yourself why you want to make that particular photograph. If you can clearly identify your motivations and passions, your reasons for making photographs, you will find that they guide your design and technical skills—and your photographs will be all the richer for that.

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Table of Contents

  • Preface

    Learning to explore
    The building blocks of visual design

    Light: the raw material
    Line
    Shape
    Texture
    Perspective
    Putting the building blocks together
    Dominance
    Balance
    Proportion
    Rhythm
    Evaluating your photographs
    Assignments
    People
    Natural things
    Human constructions and manufactured things
    Making an album
    About the author
  • The second edition of this book has been adapted for both film and digital photographers. Film and digital photographers will find the content of this book equally useful.
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First Chapter

Learning to explore

This book about observing and photographing the world around you is a gift to you from my students — hundreds and hundreds of photographers who have attended workshops over the years, contributed their own ideas, and tackled assignments with enthusiasm, imagination, and determination. They have inspired me with their remarkable images of everyday things and given me the direct impetus for this project by encouraging me to consider an assignment—oriented book on the subject.

As much as possible, I have based the structure of the book on the week-long workshops I conduct with teaching partners in both New Brunswick Canada, and Namaqualand, South Africa. Enrolment in these is limited to 15 or 16 participants, and in the last 30 years women and men of all ages — from 10 to 91 — and levels of expertise have taken part. The only assumption I have made here is that readers have a basic knowledge of how cameras — film or digital — and lenses work.

Most workshop days include three distinct instructional components: 1/ an illustrated lecture or two; 2/ a field trip or assignment; and 3/ evaluation of photographs made by the students on the previous day.

I begin my classroom teaching the first day with informal remarks about barriers to seeing and ways to demolish them, and with a comparison of linguistic design (the ways in which we arrange and use words) and visual design. Light is the raw material of photography, and I discuss how the two kinds of contrasts it produces — those of tone and those of color — are the primary visual elements of any composition, actually creating the lines, shapes, textures, and perspective (the secondary visual elements) on which all visual expression depends. On subsequent days, as in the next two chapters of this book, I consider each of these building blocks in turn and then present methods of arranging them in picture space for the clear expression of facts, ideas, and feelings. Near the end of the week I consolidate and review everything by showing students images I've made in a wide variety of situations and discussing how I applied the principles described in my lectures.

Since I can't accompany you on your field trips, in the evaluation and assignment sections of this book I offer you a selection of my own photographs made in the field, with the same kinds of suggestions I offer workshop students — key opportunities for dealing with particular subject matter, playing with design, trying different lenses, and ways of overcoming potential difficulties with technical derails like lighting and exposure. My intention is to open up possibilities you might not think of on your own, to help you discard old habits of seeing.

After many years of teaching photography and visual design, I've come to realize that most participants regard photography workshops, consciously or unconsciously, as a passport, an opportunity to gain access to something far more important than the medium itself — their creative selves. Sometimes their desire to grow is so deeply buried under an accumulation of personal baggage that it's difficult to acknowledge its existence, much less to do anything about it. This is where an instructor or a friend who is sensitive to the situation can help.

I remember a morning several years ago when I was in the field with an amateur photographer who had enrolled in a workshop as a retirement gift to herself. On this particular morning, she wanted to make pictures of an especially beautiful stand of wild rhododendron. Although she obviously loved the flowers and listened as I encouraged her to try various approaches to photographing them, every composition she showed me was more or less the same as all the others — a small section of shrubbery viewed from her normal height, a definite center of interest always placed in a "one-third position" (that is, one-third up or across the picture plane), and maximum depth of field to ensure that every last leaf and blossom was in focus. Some of her compositions were quite pleasing but, considered as a group, they all followed her rigid formula, completely masking her feelings about the subject matter. She might as well have been photographing a car, an old barn, or clouds at sunset for all the difference it made in the way she composed her pictures. After nearly an hour of trying, unsuccessfully, to loosen her up, I decided to try some shock treatment.

"Alice," I remarked, "I bet you spent your entire life teaching English — grammar, sentence structure, and things like that." She stared at me with a look of complete shock, like a child caught in the act of doing something expressly forbidden, and murmured in a voice so low I could scarcely hear her,
"How did you know?"

"Because," I replied, "you love rules too much; you're afraid to experiment, to let go." And then she said something that made me infinitely sad: "It's just that I don't have any imagination."

At that point I wanted to grab both her arms and teach her how to dance. I wanted to waltz her in great, wide arcs through a field of early daisies, to swing her in circles above the shrubbery and then, exhausted, to lie on the grass as we peered up through the canopy of green leaves and pink rhododendron flowers at tiny patches of blue sky. Instead, I said, "Nobody can survive for more than a minute without using imagination. Your problem isn't a lack of imagination, but an inability to relax. You're scared stiff of trying anything new for fear that you'll make a mistake, but the whole point of your photographing these flowers is to focus on their beauty, not on your uptightness. The flowers are the subject matter, not your worries and fears." Emboldened by my own candor, I continued on in high gear. "Of course, you'll make mistakes. Great big fat ones. You'll come up with some terrible compositions, and you'll expose some good ones badly. You may even become so frustrated that you'll just want to go back to your cabin. But, if you'll accept some guidance and a few specific suggestions from me, I'm willing to hang in for another hour with you. I can guarantee that you'll make a couple of pictures that excite you and that you'll feel good about what you've accomplished."

Alice listened. Even better, she heard. "Should I choose a new camera position?" she asked. "Yes," I replied. "Instead of standing on the outside, why not move right in among the leaves and the blossoms?"

Moments later, surrounded by foliage and flowers on all sides, she called out, "I can't get everything in focus." And then she added, "Maybe I shouldn't even try, but just use shallow depth of field instead."

"Excellent idea," I called back. She was already using her imagination.

We're all like Alice — perhaps not all the time, or even most of the time, but usually too much of the time. By seeing and doing things repeatedly in the same way, we fail to appreciate the newness and freshness that we can experience in every environment, however familiar, and we risk closing down our creative selves. It may take a conscious act of will on our part, some shoving by a friend, even a shock of some sort to make us open our eyes and our minds to what's around us every day of our lives. But once we admit to ourselves that far fields are not necessarily greener, that visual exploration is possible wherever we happen to be, we can make good photographs of anything, anywhere.

Over the years I've frequently chosen a familiar object, scene, situation, or person and promised myself that I would keep exploring visually until I'd made at least twenty good compositions. (I have no upper limit.) Quite often I've selected subjects that, initially, didn't interest me, thus making the assignments more challenging than subjects I'm naturally attracted to, and also increasing the potential for greater discovery. One such assignment was to photograph in an enclosed por

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    I have read it

    I read the book. It will give you things to consider before making the final photograph. You will definately see objects in ways you didn't know exissted.

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