What Would Ansel Say?

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When I was a kid, my family would travel to Yosemite National Park to take photography workshops from Ansel Adams.  Many conversations around our family dinner table were about photography, composition and how Ansel would approach it.

My father would enlighten us, “When you set out to photograph that arrangement of leaves, what would Ansel do? He’d never move a leaf or a blade of grass to change the composition – he’d make the photograph as it is”.  That concept stuck with me.

That was great training for me, because these days, I see photographic possibilities everywhere I look.  It’s as if I’m holding up a camera to my eye as I walk through my world.  I always have to remember that my “composing” habit might not be something that plagues others.

When teaching one of my photography workshops with Jansen Photo Expeditions,  I often assume my students will see the compositions that I do, but they usually don’t.  The whole point of a photographic workshop is to experience a feast of visuals while looking for possible photographs and keeping in mind the best creative exposure.  But many of my students can’t see what I see, and wait for me to point out the best shots.  As their teacher, my goal is to help them learn how to see differently – to change their perspective -- not point their camera in the direction of the composition and shoot it for them.

As a participant, they come to me to not only learn how to capture a beautiful place and experience what it has to offer, but tap into a piece of their creative selves that they wouldn’t usually be able to access. The key is to release their imagination and relax into the creative experience and the location.

How I Help Them Get There: Basic Design Rules

The basic rules of design include shape, line, form, texture, and each element deserves a blog post of its own.  So, I always start at square one and teach basic composition.  These are tools that most artists and photographers us.

See the image above? Why do you think this is a compelling image? Do you see how your eye moves throughout the picture?

It starts at the bottom of the road and follows the leading line to the horizon. There’s a reason why your eye moves in this way. It is called the Rule of Thirds.  The Rule of Thirds applies to many areas of art and design.

This rule also applies to composing an image within a frame.  The Rule of Thirds proposes that you imagine an image divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines.  The intersection of these points has the strongest impact on the image.

These intersecting lines are where you’ll position your subject or multiple subjects as I did in the picture above.

See how the road ends in one of the most powerful points in the picture?   In addition, the location of the horizon line, is located at another one of the strongest points. Not only does the Rule of Thirds help you create a compelling composition, it also helps draw the viewer’s interest.

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These rules of composition help to tell the story. If this was just a landscape showing the mountains in the background, it wouldn’t be nearly as compelling. Because of the leading line, and the point of view of the camera, your eye follows the the road to the end and then follows along the mountain range and then up into the clouds. You feel like you’re in the picture, not just viewing it.

“A photograph is usually looked at - seldom looked into”,

photographic words of wisdom from Ansel Adams

A Story About Photoshop Filters and Compositions

Margo, a very accomplished photographer was attending one of our photography Yosemite workshops. Because she’s a more knowledgeable photographer, we gave her the basic guidelines of the assignment, and set her free to compose a few hopeful masterpieces.

This particular day was slightly overcast which can be great for close up work or macro photography, but not as compelling for landscapes. In this case, we were working on composing a snowy winter scene.

After an hour or so, Margo showed us a moderately interesting image and wanted our opinion. We told her to continue to work on the subject for a more interesting angle.

After the workshop was over, we received the work back from our clients so we could critique their best images. There was Margo’s moderately interesting landscape, enhanced with all sorts of Photoshop filters and special effects. It still wasn’t the compelling image we were looking for, but it had some interesting bells and whistles.

Some people feel that fancy effects will bring their image to the forefront. Yes, I’m with you and I get seduced by those filters as well, but you need to start out with a strong image before you even consider adding those filters. They will then only enhance your already strong work.

What would Ansel say? "There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”

Composition is the backbone of a strong image and the Rule of Thirds can be the first step to getting there. It’s important to have a story in mind for your image, as well as pre-visualize how you’d like your photograph to look.

Try a couple of versions of a particular concept, work from different perspectives and angles until your vision comes into view.

Remember the Rule of Thirds and you’ll naturally invite your viewer into the picture so they can discover all the elements of your image. You’ll see a dramatic increase in the quality of your work.

TIP: If you’d like to try the Rule of Thirds grid for yourself, check your camera settings within your Digital SLR or cellphone. Hidden away, there’s an option to turn on the grid. Give it a try, you’ll love your results!

If you’d like personal assistance in nurturing your photographic creativity, we have lots of ways to help you learn to be more comfortable with your camera and your personal vision. Single and multi day workshops are our specialty as well as online coaching by Zoom.

And if you’d like to take a longer trip, we have Iceland coming up in the summer of 2021. Email us for more information or to book your next photographic expedition, www.JansenPhotoExpeditions.com

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