People think photography is overrated

Take creative photos

Creativity with the camera is a balancing act. For Michael Freeman this means dealing with life and getting involved in the unpredictable. Capture moments. But it also has to do with one's own way of thinking and seeing, and so the author of the latest edition of the ProfiFoto edition shows 50 ways to creative photography.


No rules
This is not a technique training. There's no right or wrong here, and you can be sure that your pictures will look boring in the first place if you follow all the rules. However, if there is anything worse than sticking to the rules, it is breaking the rules at all costs. Double disaster.
Why should there be rules for a purely creative activity? Rules make things accurate, predictable, and repeatable, exactly what an interesting, surprising photo shouldn't be. Now you may be wondering where inappropriate rules for creative activities come from. People who are not creative themselves think it up in order to have a simple, logical formula ... so that they might still be creative after all.
Let's take the origin of one of the better known rules, the rule of thirds. The name was invented in 1797 by John Thomas Smith, an engraver and draftsman. Smith's rule was based on a misinterpretation by the artist Sir Joshua Reynolds, who once said that if there are two areas of the image with different brightness, one should dominate and the other should not be of the same size. Smith wrote: "Analogous to this rule of thirds (if I may call it that), I take the liberty of ..." Unfortunately, nobody answered him: "No, you must not!"
Since then, mediocre artists and photographers with limited imaginations have manically followed this strange instruction of dividing a picture into thirds. It is obvious that photos would inevitably be boring if they were all created using the same rules. Just think about the photos that really inspire you. How many are divided into thirds? The real question is: Why is the rule repeated so often and never with worthwhile results?
There are, of course, some visual and psychological effects, but this is not the case. Human vision is trained to make predictions based on what the eye perceives. It is trained to recognize, imagine, and extrapolate.
For example, it likes to make connections. In the river scene from Vietnam in the picture opposite, most people immediately recognize the triangle. It is immediately noticeable as a structure that gives stability to the picture. In fact, there are two overlapping triangles here, one of which is the hat on the woman's head. But these are exactly the details that a photographer will notice.

The triangular structure brings order to this scene from a river delta in Vietnam, because that's how the eye works. But it is only a tool and should not be seen as a compositional rule

Another example: The human eye is automatically drawn to certain things in a picture, as if there were a person's face, especially the eyes, and writing (in whatever language). Once you know which arrangements and objects get the most attention, you can arrange the framing and composition for your purposes. So you can be reasonably certain that the viewer's gaze will wander to the face and eyes, so they can be small if you want. In the shot of the cocteleria (there are oyster cocktails, no martinis), the sign naturally attracts the most attention. And although the face takes up a much smaller area of ​​the image, at some point the eye recognizes the face and the eyes, because the photographer took the girl with a sideways glance that reveals the white in the eyes.
As mentioned, these are not rules, but effects. You can use them if you want, but none of these effects alone will make an image better or more interesting.

Another effect works well, but shouldn't be stylized as a rule: some things are more eye-catching than others, including the human face, especially the eyes. This picture from Cartagena, Colombia deliberately uses this effect. When looking to the side, the white in the girl's eyes becomes clear and guarantees the viewer's attention, even though the face only takes up about 1/400 of the picture area

Study work
To be successful in the world of photography, it is simply a matter of knowing what has already been achieved and by whom. You shouldn't copy it, but understand it. Study the work of others, both famous and modern artists. Decide what work you enjoy and consider why. Make an effort to understand the underlying ideas, which you can also implement yourself. Most photographers put a lot of effort into their shots and you can benefit from that.
Some prefer to approach their motifs with an open mind. That may be justified, but it probably won't get you very far. Take the equivalent in painting: naive art like L. S. Lowry's Matchstick Man works because it is childlike and completely ignores the work of others. But it only works in small doses. The photographic version uses toy cameras - the more plastic lens, the better. For us who want to find our place in the world of real photography, knowing a little about that world is a good place to start. In other words: discover the masterpieces in this world. Take a look at what's already been created and what's going on - not even necessarily for inspiration (although that's a nice side effect), but to know what good photography is. At least you will not be extremely satisfied with yourself because you think you have invented a new way of taking pictures - someone must have done that before you. This is why philosophers use the terms H-creativity (historical) and P-creativity (psychological). H-creativity means no one has done this before you and you are the first. P-creativity means that the person believes that they have reinvented something because they do not know what happened before.

Australia, Sydney, George Street. 2006 Much of the work by Magnum photographer Trent Parke is light-controlled and extremely characteristic. He is particularly fascinated by the deep, clear sunlight that is reflected in the city's commercial buildings. This view of George Street, one of Parke's favorite locations, is a good example of how reflections interact

However, it is not absolutely necessary to reinvent something. This is clearly overrated, because like advertising guru John Hegarty in his book Hegarty on Creativity:
There are no rules put it: “Basically, it depends on the accuracy of your sources. The word "unique" is used too often, too frequently and without justification as is "original". What is really "original", has it really never been done before? Well, you could say that every moment in photography is unique, but that's hair-splitting. Take any picture that seems completely novel and if you search long enough you will find that it was inspired by one that was already there. This happens in all creative media and is perfectly fine. That's art, it builds on what is already there. "
It is also helpful to know that every creative branch - from painting to film to theater and photography - tastes differently. Even the most creative work is only successful if someone else likes it - you just have to wait long enough for it. After a lecture at Hangzhou University, a Chinese student asked me, "What if nobody likes my work?" Difficult question, and the answer is not easy either. Maybe it's because you're ahead of your time and working on the very edge of creativity. Or your work is not as good as you think it is. Show them to a trusted photographer or have your portfolio rated by a professional whose work you enjoy. If he gives you the green light, stick with your style even if you have to wait a while for your breakthrough.

Embed an idea
A picture is stronger and works better if it doesn't just look good, but has an idea behind it. It doesn't have to be a great concept, but if you had a purpose in mind when creating the image, it automatically becomes more interesting. Don't be intimidated by this task. Photographers who care at least a little bit about what they are shooting always think a little about the meaning of their images and have an idea of ​​what they are trying to achieve visually.

Yue Minjun in his studio, Beijing, 2007: A simple, yes, obvious idea for a portrait by Chinese artist Yue Minjun was to take the connection between himself and his parody versions of himself one step further - by adding his normally serious facial expression to the manic one Grin is juxtaposed in the paintings. Since the huge canvas practically fills the picture, it does not look like an object in the studio, but rather forms the scene itself

Hell's Gate-Wanderweg, Qimen, 2015: After the described recording, the image was processed in the style of a mountain-water role image, i.e. first converted to black and white, then the brightness was increased in the upper part and the contrast was reduced so that it looks like lighter, washed-out brushstrokes works. The 3: 2 format was cropped to a narrow portrait format for the same stylistic reasons

The idea of ​​this artist portrait seems quite simple, almost obvious. The painter, Yue Minjun, has gained a considerable reputation in China through the use of the grotesquely grinning, pink faces for delivering "a self-deprecating answer to the spiritual vacuum and the folly of modern China," as the Saatchi Gallery puts it. These cult figures with their clean-shaven heads bear a certain resemblance to Yue himself - apart from the crazy expressions on their faces. In fact, they are distorted versions of a self-portrait. Their size and graphic strength make his paintings a natural backdrop for all photo portraits; we started like this almost without thinking, before we realized a connection could be made. Yue is serious by nature, so the contrast between him and his painted versions sums up his work. All we had to do was find a painting that would work as a background - a gap between two large grinning heads that would be big enough for the artist. I placed him close enough for everything to be in focus and made him look seriously into the camera. This purposely simple approach resulted in the finished image in a logical and most satisfactory manner.
A little less obvious in its idea is this picture of a waterfall with a small group of women climbing down the side. This was commissioned for a book about tea. We are here deep in the mountains of the Chinese province of Anhui. Our hosts, the tea producers, showed us this beautiful but difficult path; the best tea grows high in the mountains. The view at this point was impressive, but there were no people here. As a landscape, it was halfway okay, but my friend and coordinator pointed out a vertical arrangement that had the makings of a typical Chinese "mountain-water" scroll. Such an image has a very specific shape that includes graphics designed to draw the eye upwards, tiny figures, and a vertical arrangement with more distant upper levels appearing to sit on top of the lower. The tiny size of the figures is important: Taoism teaches that although humans are one with nature, they are nevertheless subordinate to it.
In order for me to be able to integrate people into the composition, our hosts had to go to some effort. Cell phones didn't work there. So someone had to climb much higher to find out when the pickers were returning from the upper tea garden so I could prepare to take in. Everything about this shot - timing, structure (and later cropping), focal length and some subtleties of processing - was based on this idea of ​​a traditional "mountain-water" painting.
When you make your concept the driving force behind your image, the only danger is that you will rely solely on itd neglect the visual arts. Much of modern art photography these days is conceptual - the pitfalls can be seen in many galleries and exhibitions. Strong idea + weak execution = questionable photography. Never use clever ideas as a crutch for poor visuals.



This article was published in ProfiFoto 3/17.




The experts at the ProfiFoto editorial team
and from mitp-Verlag bundle their know-how and, in collaboration with experienced authors who come directly from the photo industry, publish a unique series of specialist books “made for professionals”: ​​the edition's mitp books complement and support the ProfiFoto magazine professional knowledge of the correct handling and efficient use of digital photo technology and image processing.

50 ways to creative photography
by Michael Freeman, mitp Verlag 2017, 1st edition 2017, 224 pages, softcover with dust jacket, format 23.5 x 25.5 cm, ISBN 978-3-95845-458-3, 29.99 euros


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