Thursday, August 28, 2014

PhotoProject :: How to Photograph Nothing

I just read an interesting article in The Artist Magazine by Paul Talbot-Greaves titled “How to paint nothing” (January 2014), in which he comments,

“Many people have said they probably wouldn’t notice the subject in one of my landscapes and would probably walk straight past the scene, … So just how do you notice a composition of nothing?”

There is a video of Paul painting a watercolour below (it is speed up but takes just over 10minutes, and is well worth watching to see how he uses a simple colour palette and strong tonal shapes, lines of the river, skyline and a few trees to quickly build a wonderful yet conventional landscape composition). Unfortunately a well meaning (and probably very experienced) photo critic would suggest his landscape needs a red canoe with the canoeist in a bright yellow life-vest positioned at the first bottom “thirds point of interest”, but he would be wrong it doesn’t need to be like that (ok it might be if you want to win the camera club photo of the month and he is judging!). It needs the artist eye to see the colour, composition and tone! That’s all.

I am inspired to apply his insights into the photographic process. One in particular is that  “compositional designs are best when strong lighting is involved”, for example using shadows to create exciting negative shapes and add dimension to an image. Paul also is attracted to “the bright, high chroma colours against darker muted tones”

So over the past couple of days I have been quick to pick up my camera whenever I see that strong light variation and strong colours against shadows, and particularly interesting shadow patterns. My photos of nothing setDid not really matter what the subject was after all it is a photo of nothing, I was just looking for the right lighting ambience, boldish colour and shadows.

This set of images (on the right) are simply of the shadows of a potted yucca plant on my partly open patio doors. I was sitting enjoy a coffee in the sun at the time. I had the foresight to include an EV bracketed set of exposure, so I sent that set off to Google+ Autobackup and this time they did return a decent *HDR autoawesome, but the composition, as shoot, was a bit boring. Also it had a few damaged leaves on the yucca and they were an unnecessary distraction. My favourite tool to fix composition in any photo is the crop tool, It is normally a simple logo of two opposing L shapes, occasional with a curved rotation arrow. Google+ photos has some good edit tools on-line and the crop tool (shown below) has a feature to control the ratio (aspect of horizontal & vertical axis) to keep the crop within given standard size combinations. There is a separate icon at the top of the panel on the right to do any rotational (straightening) adjustment.

Google+ photo crop tool

I have not bothered about the rule of thirds of any other compositional rule, I was looking for a pleasing combination of colour and shadow and I like the contrast of the vertical door frames and the angled shadows with their lost and found lines feel. An image like this is a great place to experiment with all sort of crops, so don’t stop at your very first try. The wooden door handle on the white door frame is a little distracting but I have not managed to find any cloning tools in Google+ Photo so I have had to downloaded the edited image and then take it through OnOne’s Perfect Enhance 8. Perfect Enhance has a really magic Perfect Eraser which is content aware and does a both quick and reasonable job of removing the handle. Finally I add a big softy vignette.

Final photo of nothing

So the exercise of photographing nothing can be rewarding, and encouraging both seeing more like a painter might but also forcing some creativity in you post processing (in this case perhaps a little more abstract albeit more thoughtful cropping).

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