Another Trip on a Path Less Traveled….

In the previous post, we looked at originality in photography. I suggested beginning your search for originality and your personal style by starting with flowers. I also suggested that you be willing to try different techniques and interpretations – to take the path less traveled. A trip through the world encompassed in a single tulip was used to illustrate what was meant.
Today, we’re going to take a similar trip (sans the O’Keeffe quotes and with less dialogue). A pansy is today’s subject. The journey will progress in a fashion similar to the one with the tulip. It follows the general road map suggested by Georgia O’Keeffe in this quote –

Sometimes I start in a very realistic fashion, and as I go on from one painting to another of the same kind, it becomes simplified until it can be nothing but abstraction.

The progression illustrated by the following examples (click to enlarge) demonstrates what you should try to do. I suggested trying this every day for a month while taking at least 50 pictures a day. If you apply yourself, you’ll quickly find that it’s hard to stop at just fifty.
Starting in a “….very realistic fashion….”, here’s our pansy in a non-original botany text style.

Moving on down the road, how about if we just move in closer? Well, that’s a step away from the botany text – but it’s not a step along a path less traveled. You’ve probably seen this view of a pansy many times before. Note – the pansy is not centered in the frame. It could have been but that’s normally a static (boring) composition. If we’re just going to show someone a flower close-up, let’s at least do it in a visually interesting way.

And – moving further along our somewhat popular and well traveled path – how about moving in even closer. Apart from demonstrating that we have decent macro gear and technique this doesn’t move us closer to originality – just closer to the pansy.

Well, this isn’t getting us anywhere new – just further along a fairly well traveled path moving closer and closer to the pansy. Look! Up ahead! There’s a fork in the path and the one branching off to the side is less worn. Let’s try it – shoot the pansy more from the side instead of head on. OK – the result’s not great but we are off in a new direction that appears less traveled. It may not lead to a great destination – that remains to be seen – but we’re on a path that’s less traveled so the journey itself may be educational.

We’ve moved further along the path that took us toward the side of the pansy. Continuing on, we find ourselves at the back of the flower. Maybe this is worthwhile? Maybe not – it’s a bit different but too busy for my taste (recall, we’re shooting for ourselves).

How about if we change the angle just slightly and, equally important, change the depth of field in attempt to reduce the “busy-ness” and eliminate some of the background distractions. In almost any form of photography, you should compose for the background (we’ll discuss more about what this means in a future composition lesson). Definitely, a path with some potential; let’s continue.

One final look along our current path. That last one showed some promise – maybe if we go around that next bend (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said that to myself while hiking and ending way, way past just the next bend).  I think these last two are nice but they still say flower. What else can we do? Maybe we can find another fork in the trail that says this way toward abstraction. Very few photographers take that path so it is certainly one less traveled.

Abstraction – not immediately recognizable. With that definition as a goal, how about something that’s front and back and side of the pansy all at once. Nah. Different, yes, but it makes my eyes tired trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be seeing. Just a jumble.

How about if we go with the above image but make two changes? The changes are intended to emphasize the shapes and lines by reducing the distracting elements (jumble – that’s a technical term) of our first attempt. First, we’ll move in and tilt the camera to the right just very slightly and second we’ll reduce the depth of field to the shallowest possible value.
Wow. That’s a big improvement. A nice sensuous “S-curve” and soothing soft colored shapes.

Figuring that maybe we’re on to something along this path – no signs of anyone having been here – let’s try a few more along similar lines (pun).
This one suffers from the same problem as the image two above here – a busy background. But – we know how to fix that. That’s why we went into such detail in the Craftsmanship section – so we would know how to get the image we want and to fix things when we don’t. Isn’t all that craftsmanship “lecturing on my part” about making the picture that you want starting to make sense now?

If we’re looking for lines and shapes, the texture & highlights in the background of the above image are not helpful. Reduce depth of field and get rid of it.

And for one last illustration, let’s move in closer (and flip the resulting image). Are we happy with where this path less traveled took us? Maybe, but it’s not important. It’s what we discovered about photographic techniques and interpretations that counts most – along with what we learned about ourselves and how we see things around us.

As you probably know, I’m not a fan of cropping outside of the camera but here’s a crop (plus rotate & flip) of the previous version that shows a possible destination at the end of our current path. Definitely an abstraction & more focused on the previous subject  – that blue line outlined against soft complementary colors.

Trip data –

  • Duration – about an hour
  • Distance – 10 feet out my front door
  • Scenery – breathtaking
  • Images made – many more than shown here
  • Cost – zero

A note to Point & Shoot users (and users of cameras with small sensors in general). A big limitation of your camera is that the smaller the sensor, the more difficult it is to create a shallow depth of field and achieve selective focus. NOTE – I’m talking about the area of your sensor and NOT how many pixels it contains! There’s little that you can do about this short of using a camera with a larger sensor. If selective focus is a priority, you see where you need to go. Without using a D-SLR, many of the images in this post and the previous tip-toe through the tulip post are not possible.
Sensor size comparison where Point & Shoots are in the bottom row and typical D-SLR’s are in the 2nd row. A huge size difference. (The good news is that it’s easier for you to keep things in focus from near to far than it is for the “big boys”.) (Source Wikipedia)

0 thoughts on “Another Trip on a Path Less Traveled….”

  1. Appreciate your adding the link in your update. What amazing abstractions. I understand why the collection is called un-canoeness. Maybe you would talk about some of them in a future meeting if you think appropriate to the class. It absolutely drives home your mantra of looking/seeing outside the boundaries of commonality. Russ

  2. Russ, I’m puzzled. I did post them. They are at the site where the above link takes you. Do you mean to explicitly post them in the course as a slide show? I can certainly do that.

  3. You probably still have these canoe shots and, if you are willing/able to post them, it would be a wonderful addition to this topic. I am severely cruious, Russ

  4. You’re absolutely right, Russ. In fact Freeman has a quote along the lines of “Why do you think you’d see more in Tibet if you can’t even see what’s in your backyard?” (paraphrased).
    Some of his exercises emphasize this belief. In one he stays in one spot – randomly chosen – and does not move ( you can turn around and/ or get low to the ground – but otherwise stay where you are). While in this spot make 25 or more images.
    Another is a 24 hour assignment with a strict theme. Mine was images of canoes that did not look like canoes – and I was not allowed to use a macro lens (that hurt). My slide show the next day got ooh’s & ahh’s from Andre Gallant, Freeman’s teaching partner who said that in seeing the canoe project done more than 100 times this was the 1st that moved him. Other projects were – White (that’s it, just white). Another person got a small sculpted glass curio. Another was told – Boots. The point is that if you put your mind to it and use some imagination coupled with creativity (not to mention understanding craftsmanship so that you can control the camera & not vice versa) Tibet might be interesting but not the best place you can go for photography.
    Follow this link and you’ll get an idea of what I did on my “Un-Canoe” assignment. It was all about lines, shapes & colors – the restrictive nature of my topic and everyone else’s forced me to think that way. But, hey, the course was all about Visual Design so what would you expect?
    Freeman’s was my one and ONLY photo workshop or course. I waited until 2007 – after I had been doing daily photos for 3 years, read all of Freeman’s books multiple times, won every local photo award to be had. Then I felt I was ready to absorb his lessons and try to go the next step. I wouldn’t have understood much 2-3 years earlier. It’s literally like learning a new language.

  5. In Freeman Patterson’s book Photography and the Art of Seeing many of his awsome images were taken right in his yard just as yours in this post. Guess I dont have to go to Tibet to get that illusive shot. Russ

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