Friday, October 23, 2015

"Better Composition-How to Work a Subject" by Don Bolak

In my upcoming CAPS presentation ‘Better Composition – How to Work A Subject’ my goal is to provide you with an overview of what I consider the essentials of the process of photographic composition and include various tips/tricks along the way.  One of the key topics I will review:  Is Your Subject Photo Worthy?

So what exactly am I talking about here?  Have you ever gone on a photo shoot and been overwhelmed with the number of possibilities?  You search and search and finally find something to get excited about.  You spend some time setting up, get your perfect shot, and go home a happy photographer.  Until you look at your images on the computer monitor and it turns out the shot was not that hot!  And then the regrets set in: What was I thinking!?  What a lost opportunity?  I cannot believe I thought that was great!  Check out these daisy images.  Which image would you rather see on your computer?

Being able to evaluate potential subjects in the field before you setup and start shooting is hugely beneficial and time saving.  You do not always have the leisure of time to take a shot.  Light is changing constantly during the golden hours for photography around sunrise and sunset.  Your animal, bird or insect subject may not wait around for you.  Even the wind may start to pick up and end your day for doing close up images of flowers.

You also need to be able to look at subjects and determine if the subject is really that good.  One of the greater challenges you need to face:  what you see is not what you get in the camera.  The tools you are using to visualize your shot is a small view finder or a low resolution LCD screen.  It’s easy to miss things.  For close up photography -  trying to see flaws and dirt on that flower in a dark view finder at f22 is difficult.  I cannot tell you how much time I have to spend cleaning up images. I literally do not see all that crap in my view finder.  For this Aeonium picture – I did see that it was dirty and tried to clean it up in the field.  Since it was a potentially a great photo, I went ahead and shot it anyway.  I had no idea how dirty until I saw it on the computer monitor.  It took me hours to clean this up in photoshop.  No fun there.

Another way to think of it:  I just attended the Chicago Architectural Foundation’s Open House (if you are not familiar, check it out on-line).  I had 50 or so possible buildings to visit over the course of two days.  No way I was going to come even close to seeing that many buildings.  How to decide what to see?  A casual conversation with another photographer saved me from wasting time.  “Do not go to the XXX Building, the windows are filthy and you cannot get a good shot”.  If you were at that location, would you spend substantial time taking photo’s or would you have noticed the dirty windows and moved on to the next building?  I picked another high rise buiding to go to instead and got the following shot.  My thanks to that anonymous photographer.

Something else to consider: finding a worthy subject can take time.  Wild life photographers know this well and cultivate great patience.  It may take multiple excursions over the course of years to get that perfect mid-flight shot of that eagle.  Let’s look at another example:  for my flower photography, the sequence below took me about 3 months to get.  I thought the flowers had great potential but the plants do not produce a lot of flowers over the course of the summer.  So I had to wait for them to flower; wait for good conditions (lighting, wind, etc.); and finally wait for the perfect flower.  As you can see in the sequence below, I also had to learn from my mistakes - bad background, bad light, bad composition and bad subject (the 4 bads – now that’s BAD).  I improved over time until I finally had success.

Hopefully you are starting to get the idea.  You have to be able to decide what is interesting to you; edit the scene; evaluate the subject quality; AND THEN apply all your photographic tricks/techniques to get the great shot.  Hope to see you Sunday November 22nd at my CAPS presentation.

A serious hobbyist for over 15 years, Don has received numerous awards for his photography, exhibited widely and has been published in newspapers and magazines (most recently Natures Best Magazine).   While he pursues many different types of photography (abstract, landscape, garden, architecture, wildlife), his primary interest is botanical and close-up/macro photography.
He tries to portray the incredible diversity of color, form and subject matter found in the "micro world."

With a day job as a landscape architect, Don’s professional training in design and botany along with his expertise in photography makes him a popular speaker.  He has presented at past Chicago Area Photographic Schools, Lake County Expo, Out of Chicago Conference and other venues.
Website:  Donald Bolak Photography
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