Minimalist challenge

The minimalist challenge was proposed by Catherine Rookyard on her facebook page. For those of you who haven't met Catherine yet, she figured out my personal watermark recently where she took my existing logo and put it with my name, which she did very effectively.  A few of you are already working on this as a photographic genre. So I thought it would be very timely to propose it now.

For this challenge you need to go in search of the minimalist composition.  Remove everything except the smallest hint of subject. Work on composing the negative space. Play with the negative space. Use it as the main compositional element.

Lone tree on lone hill, near Broken Hill © Leonard Metcalf 2013 from our Outback tour
Lone tree on lone hill, near Broken Hill © Leonard Metcalf 2013 from our Outback tour

5 second exposure

Put your camera on shutter priority or manual and go out and take some images with 5 second exposures. See what you can do with this creative limit posed on you. No right or wrong. Just 5 second exposures. Go with camera movement, or subject movement, either will work for you.

Thanks for Andreas for getting us going on this and for the first few challenges.

Here are a couple of mine.. :)

Ferns
Ferns
5 second exposure
5 second exposure
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Study your photographic genre

Now that you are underway with your own photographic projects it is time to figure out what others have done before you.  This will help you with your compositions and with finding your own style. Firstly identify which genre you are working on. It may be fashion portraits or portraits of trees. It may be ocean scapes or wide open panoramas. It may be blurry sea scapes.  It is a good idea here to limit yourself in some ways, perhaps to a location or a particular lens, or a technique even.

Now you need to scour everywhere possible for outstanding and great photographs in this genre.  In short, photographs you love and want to take. Your goal is to collect twenty such images. Find ones that are historically significant. Find ones from photographers that you admire and consider great. Look through magazines and books. Search the Internet. Personally I love using google image search. You may also have success searching Flickr or one of the many photographic websites.  Put all of these images into a folder on your desktop.  Make a looping slide show, and use manual advance. Look through these images over and over. Contemplate them. Analyse them. Make notes.

Answer the following questions about these images:

  1. What is the dominant compositional device used in these photographs? You may come up with multiple answers for this question.  
  2. What is happening with the tones in these images? Analyse the tones, where the lights and darks are. Describe tones in your main subject. Draw a tone map of the images. 
  3. What is happening with the lines in images? Draw the dominant lines in the image. 
  4. What is the character of the negative space in these photographs and how does this help the images.  Remember these are images you love, so you're working out why they work for you so well. 
  5. Consider what happens with your eyes and attention as it lands on the photograph, where it is drawn and where it lingers. What elements and devices are leading your eyes around the photograph? Tone, line, pattern, negative space or subject?
  6. Describe the colour pallete of the images. Cool or warm colours dominate the image? Is there a dominant colour. 
  7. What equipment and lenses have the photographers used? Wide angles, tripods, portrait lenses? Film or digital.  Try searching for the photographer and their equipment in google. They might tell you on their website or you may find a discussion about them in a forum. 
  8. What post processing has been done on these images? Large amounts of manipulation or hardly any at all? What software or techniques did the photographers use? You may have to search this out, otherwise you may have to make an educated guess. There is more information out there about what people are doing than you may initially expect. 
  9. What camera angles were used. Looking down, head on (eye level) or looking up? Is the camera close to the ground, elevated, waist height, eye height?
  10. What is the lighting in each photograph? For landscapes consider time of day, angle of the sunlight, full sun, overcast, soft light and the weather conditions. For portraits look at natural light or artificial and consider the quality of the light. Strongly directional or diffused. 

Now you have looked, really looked and now seen what is going on in these images, it is time to come up with some guidelines for your own photographs.

Finally you need to go and try using these guidelines.. Once you become competent with them, consider trying the opposites. Try breaking these guidelines.

Repeat this exercise for each photographic genre that you are working in.  For example I may do this exercise for my nudes, portraits, trees and landscapes. 

Make it a habit to analyse work you love. By doing this you are working on your visual literacy.

Lady Medusa poses in an Underground Lens shoot © Len Metcalf 2014

Lady Medusa poses in an Underground Lens shoot © Len Metcalf 2014

Apertures, what do you need to know?

Understanding apertures is important... just as important as understanding shutter speeds. The web and books are full of information about apertures so I have no intention of repeating what all ready has been done before.  So here you will find a couple of links and a list of things you should know or go and find out about.  Then some exercises that you should do.

What I recommend you should know about apertures:

  1. what is depth of field?
  2. what aperture gives you a shallow depth of field
  3. what aperture gives you a deep depth of field
  4. when using a small aperture (large f number) what is happening to the amount of light coming into your lens
  5. when using a large aperture (small f number) what is happening to the amount of light coming into your lens
  6. how does depth of field relate to your different focal length lenses? which lens has the greatest depth of field & which one has the least?
  7. what aperture gives you the sharpest photographs for each of your lenses (if you have zooms this changes with the amount of zoom)
  8. what does bokeh mean?
  9. which of your lenses has the most beautiful bokeh?
  10. in the newspaper press film photographer days the saying to the photographer was "f8 and be there", why do you think they said this?
  11. what is the "sunny 16 rule" - what does that tell you?
  12. what is diffraction? can you see it on any of your photographs? what f stop does it start?
  13. what is the hyperfocal distance? how do you use hyperfocal distance in your photography? how do you calculate hyperfocal distances?
  14. for advanced photographers: what is the circle of confusion?

Reading

Understanding depth of field

Depth of field calculator

Depth of field calculators - lots and lots of good ones

Diffraction

Lens Tip reviews

Exercises

  1. photograph an object to create subject isolation with a blurry background
  2. photograph a scene to maximise depth of field so that everything in the photograph is in focus
  3. align three similar objects on a table in a line so that the objects are at different distances from the camera. Photograph lots and lots of photographs with your camera on a tripod in a fixed position. Try focusing on each of the objects and changing the f stops. Try using different focal length lenses
  4. use hyperfocal distance to calculate what areas are going to be in focus in a photograph and then take a photograph where all of the objects are in focus
  5. find some approximate rules for hyperfocal focusing - why might these lead you astray when using them
  6. photograph a still life with all of the objects in the still life are on the same plane that is perpendicular to the path of the light into the camera. use your sharpest lens and your sharpest aperture
Rose - illustrating subject isolation utilising aperture © Len Metcalf 2013

Rose - illustrating subject isolation utilising aperture © Len Metcalf 2013

Vigars Well Lake Mungo, illustrating the use of depth of field through the use of appropriate aperture and hyperfocal focusing. Where would you put the focus point in this photograph? © Len Metcalf 2013

Vigars Well Lake Mungo, illustrating the use of depth of field through the use of appropriate aperture and hyperfocal focusing. Where would you put the focus point in this photograph? © Len Metcalf 2013