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

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

by Freeman Patterson


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781552636121
Publisher: Key Porter Books
Publication date: 09/01/2004
Edition description: Second Edition
Pages: 168
Product dimensions: 8.25(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.37(d)

About 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.

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, 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

Table of Contents


    Learning to explore
    The building blocks of visual design

      Light: the raw material
    Putting the building blocks together
    Evaluating your photographs
      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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Photographing the World Around You: A Visual Design Workshop for Film and Digital Photography 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
eveso on LibraryThing 26 days ago
A great intermediate guide to photographic compostition!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.