Viewfinder: John Fielder’s the art of seeing
Ryan Summerlin May 24, 2012
We see it all with our own two eyes …180 degrees of glorious Colorado scenery. However, seeing doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good photograph.
There’s a whole lot of chaos in our purviews; from left to right and top to bottom, most of the time there’s a distinct lack of order in the subject matter in front of us. Let’s isolate the order from the chaos and make a well-designed image. Let’s compose a photograph employing the idiom “less is usually more.”
I want to draw the viewer’s eye to the whole scene as quickly as possible. It’s visual salesmanship for me…I want you to consider my photograph and its inherent message, e.g., is the planet worth saving? And I don’t want to lose that opportunity.
I am always looking for anomalies in my views. Something that stands out from the background for whatever reason. Photographers are “anomaly hunters.” For example, consider complementary colors. All colors have an opposite, just like black is somewhat of an opposite of white. A black object against a white background is very conspicuous. This is called dark-light contrast. So, too, does a red thing against a green background have contrast, but in this case color contrast.
When I first view a scene, I try to reduce it to five basic elements: color/contrast, form, moment, perspective, and view. All of these can be attractors of my viewer’s interest.
For color, think opposites, red paintbrush wildflowers in a green meadow. Or how about yellow aspen leaves against a cobalt blue sky?
Unique shapes may stand out, like the silhouette of a dead pinion pine tree against the purple twilight sky. Or a lone and large rock in a wildflower meadow, this is form.
Rainbows, thunderstorm clouds, and just the warm yellow light of the setting sun cast on white aspen trunks are moments. Moments attract us because they are transitory. They are anomalies in time.
Perspective is created by the sense of space between things we see from close up to far away. With two eyes we perceive that depth. However, one-eyed (lenses) cameras can only portray length and width on a piece of photo paper, so the depth gets lost. Nevertheless, we can emulate depth by the way we design a photograph. Getting really close to things in the foreground makes them look bigger in relation to the background, and that creates a sense of space (and place) in the way we design our scene. Keeping foreground and background simultaneously in focus is an issue that I’ll address another time.
View is simply the amount of landscape from left to right and top to bottom that we crop for an image out of what our eyes see. We do this by looking through the viewfinder of our camera and watching what happens when we move the camera around. With different focal lengths of lenses we further edit the view until we isolate the order from the chaos.
Tune in next time for tips on how to properly compose a great photograph.
— John Fielder is one of Colorado’s best-known photographers and advocates of open spaces and wild lands, with more than 39 exhibit format and guidebooks to his credit. His enduring commitment to conservation earned him the Sierra Club’s Ansel Adams Award (1993) and the Aldo Leopold Foundation’s first Achievement Award given to an individual (2011), among other honors. His latest project involves photographing parks, open space, wildlife habitat and ranches documenting the work of Great Outdoors Colorado for its 20th anniversary in 2012. For information about Fielder’s books, workshops and fine-art gallery visit www.johnfielder.com.