Art Basic Lessons philosophy Photography

Artistic License

I have been an artist for many years, and I was a photographer before that. I have talked about my philosophy about creating images before (and I am sure I will talk about it again…). What the final image communicates to the viewing audience is all that matters. There are many online arguments about what is or is not acceptable in photography, and there are many approaches to visual communication, however I believe that most of the issues people have boils down to a failure to communicate clearly.

One of the aspects of photography in all its forms is that even a heavily manipulated photograph has an essence of reality about it. Even if the lighting is unusual and the image is heavily edited, we think, at some deep level, that a version of that image must have existed “in real life”  maybe this is why some people get so upset when they learn that a particular image has been ‘photoshopped‘. The artist did not make it clear the image was changed from reality, and the viewer did not understand the extent that photographs can be changed.

Painters are sometimes held to the opposite prejudice. The painting may not look “real” enough, or may be too abstract{{1}}. Many viewers like to be able to put a label on things; that is a picture of a cat, or a seascape, or a wall…

The true reality is that all photographs (and paintings for that matter) are just a representation of some form of reality, whether it is a representational image of a bird, or an abstract made of random shapes. and it is up to the artist to control that representation to communicate what they want to say.

[[1]]I have been often accused of being too abstract. People ask “what is it a picture of?”[[1]]

Basic Lessons lessons Photography

what makes a photographer

I had brunch today with a group of artist friends. Most of these friends are painters and we were having a conversation on what makes an artist, and the difference between painting and photography.

As a photographer, I said I notice details and know how to get the essence of a scene. I have also learned how to translate a scene into the language of photography. As a challenge I was asked to take a photo. I only had my cell phone, but I noticed the light and reflections off the glasses on the table. It is not a great photo, but I chose my angle of view to eliminate the background distractions and to crop in to get the essence of the image. I think I was able to express something…

Moral of the story? Be aware of what you see. look at light. Look for distractions and figure out how to get rid of them. Look at relationships between objects. And don’t look for excuses; use the tools you have to make the best image you can.

Basic Lessons lessons Photography Workshops

Old photographers loved fractions

One of the things that seems to confuse new photographers is the fact that everything seems to be the opposite. For example, a small f-number lets in less light than a large f-number. The reason for this is that many of these controls are represented as reciprocals, or fractions.

The fractions representing shutter speed are intuitive. People understand when “250” is displayed, it means 1/250 of a second for example, and “500” (1/500) is a shorter time. However when it comes to aperture, people don’t equate the f-numbers with fractions{{1}}. f16 is a smaller hole than f8, just as 1/16 is a smaller number than 1/8. Maybe the issue is some of the larger apertures are called f2.8. We are not used to seeing a fraction mixing decimals.. 1/2.8 looks wrong, however it is just a way to show 5/14. Just like shutter speeds, the “1/” is assumed and not printed to save space.

Once you realize the number is just a fraction, it makes sense that a smaller f-number, like f4 (1/4), lets in more light than something like f16 (1/16). just like a smaller printed shutter speed number like 60 (1/60 second) lets in more light than a printed 500 (1/500 second).

f-numbers, or f-stops, are listed so that each number in the series (1.4, 1.8, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22…){{2}} lets in twice the amount of light (or one stop more) than the previous number{{3}}. This makes it easy to match an f-number and a shutter speed to give a consistent exposure. If you halve the shutter speed, say from 1/30 to 1/60, you can open the aperture from f8 to f5.6. This will allow the exact same amount of light to reach your sensor.

In the next post I will talk about depth of field and how to control it with aperture.

[[1]]An f-number is the focal length of the lens divided by the diameter of the opening. In theory an f-number such as f8 should let in the same amount of light, ie exposure, regardless of lens, however due to physical differences in the glass and construction of lenses the actual amount of light may differ slightly. For this reason high end cinematic lenses will be marked in T-stops, which is a measured transmission of light for each lens.


[[2]]some cameras will show 1/2 or 1/3 stop f-numbers between this standard series.


[[3]]If you accept that some numbers are rounded to make things easier, you may also notice that each number is double the number two places away, and if you are really mathematically nerdy, each number is root two times the previous number, and a circle with root 2 times the diameter has twice the area.[[3]]

Art Basic Lessons Landscape Photography lessons Photography

My Christmas card

I went for a short walk with my dad the other day at the Malcolm Knapp research forest. As we were entering the park, I saw this scene and thought I could make it into a Christmas card. I had to move around a little bit to get it to line up the way I wanted it.

Once I posted it to Facebook, I received quite a good response and people were amazed that I saw the image. I am not sure if “seeing” an image can be taught, it comes with experience, or it is an innate talent. I think it is a combination of all three.

One of the advantages of digital is that extra exposures do not cost anything. You can take lots of shots without worry (unless you fill your card…). However the other side is that you do not have much invested in each exposure, you can develop a “spray and pray” mentality where you try to take lots of images and hope one works out. SLOW DOWN. think about each and every shot. why are you taking this image? If you are not sure of a scene that meets your eye, try walking around and observe how the background changes in relation to your subject. move closer and further away to judge perspective. Once you have your position, choose a focal length that crops the scene how you want it. Look in the corners for distractions. Try to figure out how you will post-process the image. Take notes if you like.

A lot of this gets easier and faster with practice, and you can take a few variations to compare back at home.

My point is to conscously make photos rather than just snap an image, Your viewers will appreciate it and you will grow as an artist…

Art Basic Lessons Photography Urban Photography

Bored in a Parking Lot

I was with a friend who wanted to run into Golf World for a few minutes. I am not a golfer so I said I would wait by the car. I pulled out my camera and looked around for something interesting…

There were some electrical towers running over the parking lot and it was an overcast sky, so I started with this…

I like the simple lines and graphic design of the image. On a side note, even though it is very monotone, it doesn’t work as well as a black and white. Some of the subtleties are lost.

Then I thought of incorporating some of the foreground trees that were just waiting to bud, creating a contrast between natural and man-made “trees”. 

I ended up with this…

I really like this image on a number of levels. And it was taken while getting bored (not) in a mall parking lot. 

My point is that you can take creative images anywhere. It is just a matter of seeing, experimenting, and being open to what is available…

Basic Lessons Computers and Software lessons

My workflow, and how I organize my images

Post processing is a necessary step in creating a great photo. Back in the day, I had binders full of negatives, slides, and proof prints and I would spend hours in the darkroom burning, dodging and manipulating prints. Today, I use Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop{{1}} to organize and to make my images come alive.

In this post, I will describe my typical workflow and how I organize my images. I have written (and will no doubt write more) posts on various retouching processes.

  1. Import images to Lightroom… I also add keywords associated with location, or anything else all the images from the shoot have in common. I have a preset that renames my raw files with the date, and then imports them into a year/month/day folder hierarchy{{2}}.
  2. Delete any obvious screw ups.
  3. Quick rating. I do a quick run through of the photos, ranking from 1 to 5 stars. One star means it is not a good photo, but I want to keep it for some reason, maybe an image I just want to keep for reference purposes. 3 stars is decent and I may want to come back to work on the image. 5 stars is an awesome portfolio quality image.
  4. next I review and mark any not worth keeping as a discard (x), and possibly mark others with one of several custom colour labels{{3}} such as “Model Release”, “Do Not Publish” or “To Work On”.

Now the images are catalogued and rated. I may leave the files alone and come back to them later, or, if an image or two are inspiring, I will start tweaking them right away.

I usually do white balance, and maybe exposure compensation in Lightroom. I could do it in Photoshop, but I would have to transfer as a smart object, and I find that is more trouble than it is worth. I may do some other global adjustments in contrast, etc before opening the file in Photoshop.

If you right click on an image and select “Open in Photoshop” this will create a PSD copy with all the cataloguing of the original raw file. All changes made in Photoshop will be reflected on this copy. At this point, I will drop the original raw file to 2 stars, as the Photoshop file is the main version of this image, and I don’t want the unedited raw file to show up in searches or smart catalogues.

At the end of the day, I will have all my raw files with some keywording and a ranking. Some of them will have duplicate Photoshop files with the same keywording. I can also drag images to different catalogues, but that is another article.

[[1]]There are other programs and workflows that may work as well or better for some people, however I have been using Photoshop for a long time and it is what I am comfortable with…[[1]]

[[2]]I also have a top level folder for “jobs”, i.e. commercial work, that is subdivided into year/month/day folders. I use keywords to describe the job and client.[[2]]

[[3]]You can set custom label text for your colour labels to make it easier to categorize images. Some people use keywords instead, but I find this can mess up searching. For example, if you search for “publish” you will also get all the files keywords “Do not publish”.[[3]]

Basic Lessons lessons philosophy Photography Workshops

Teaching Skills

Feedback from a recent teaching session, along with many of the comments I get, has made me realize I have a lot of knowledge and I need to share more on this website. I do feel, however, that I want to convey my belief that the technical side of photography (aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc) is less important than the aesthetic, meaning, and artistic sides.

Of course it is much easier to teach aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Which is one reason there are so many tutorials, lessons and videos on the web{{1}} (not all of them correct, but that is another story). The point of some courses is to enable you to shoot your camera in manual mode. My argument is that, especially in terms of simple exposure, most cameras can do a very good job automatically choosing those variables. 

My first “good” camera (a Canon TX) was fully manual, with only a match needle metering system. I did learn manual exposure techniques, but as I bought subsequent cameras, I tended to rely on automatic more and more. Today I shoot the majority of my photos in Aperture priority mode{{2}}. I find this much quicker than full manual mode, while still permitting me full control. Most modern cameras can also be configured to give full control in shutter priority or program modes. Using your camera this way enables you to concentrate on the subject of your image, rather than get tied down with technical concerns{{3}}.

So how do you learn (or I teach) the aesthetic, meaning and artistic sides of photography? That is the fun part, and the frustrating part, and the part that is never “done”.

[[1]]One good interactive demonstration is here[[1]]

[[2]]I choose the aperture with the front dial of my camera, and the camera chooses the appropriate shutter speed. I can easily override the exposure (lightness or darkness) by using the rear dial for exposure compensation. If I am just doing a walk around shoot, I will even let the camera choose ISO.[[2]]

[[3]]Yes it is important to understand that a slow shutter speed will blur motion, a faster shutter speed will freeze motion, and a small aperture number (f-stop) will have less foreground and background in focus than a larger aperture number. However this sentence contains 90% of the content of many photography courses.[[3]]

Art Basic Lessons Photography

Art of Photography

Ever since its invention, there has been a debate over whether photography is a “real” art form. I agree that some genres of photography can tend more toward record keeping (scientific, insurance, etc), and there is a strong craft{{1}} component to photography, and many photographers are quite insecure, but sometimes things come together and the final image is more then the sum of its parts….


This is a very old image, in fact it was shot on film{{2}}, but it is still one of my favourites just because of the whimsy.

PS. If you need to know, it is an old hand winch off of a barge or something. I found it at the side of a path and knew I had to shoot it….

[[1]]My definition of Craft includes the mechanical/chemical/digital manipulations that must be done to create an image. The Art comes from the expression created from the craft.[[1]]

[[2]]This is a scan of a “real” darkroom print with minimal retouching. I think the simple treatment adds to the image.[[2]]

Art Basic Lessons Photography

A Tale of Two Leaves

I was out in Goldstream yesterday taking photos in the beautiful soft light. It was overcast, but still directional. Bright enough to show shape, but soft enough not to have harsh shadows. There was even an occasional light drizzle to put sparkle on the foliage, etc. In other words a perfect day for photography. 

Going through my images when I got home I found these two that both incorporate a yellow leaf, but in two completely different ways…

the first contrasts the leaf with moss and rock, making a calm tapestry full of interesting textures.
Leaf resting on a moss covered rock.

The second image uses a similar leaf as a blurred background object, highlighting the habitat of the spider…
Spider backlit by yellow leaf

completely different use of a very similar leaf giving a very different feel to the photo.

So which one do you like better?

Basic Lessons lessons Photography

A Perspective on Different Lenses

Some time ago, I got into a discussion on the different looks of wide angle vs telephoto lenses. There is a lot of misconception with focal length of lenses. If you talk to some people about lenses, especially with regard to different size sensors in your camera (medium format, full frame, crop frame, etc) you can get all kinds of opinions. I was always taught two images would look the same if you cropped the wide shot to show the same field of view as a telephoto image.

This is not a rigorous scientific test, but a real world experiment{{1}} that should be good enough for what I do. In fact it is so simple, you can do the same thing to prove for yourself that perspective depends ONLY on camera position and not lens choice or camera type.


First I took a wide angle shot:

24mm at f5.6
24mm at f5.6

Then the telephoto shot
85mm f5.6

Then I cropped the wide angle shot to include approximately the same field of view as the telephoto image.

Cropped 24mm at f5.6
Cropped 24mm at f5.6

Other than the traffic on the road, I don’t see much difference… Objects are all the same relative size in each image.  At web sizes, there is not even any apparent difference in sharpness or grain.

I guess the next step will be to shoot something with less depth of field, i.e. close-ups, but I suspect the difference will be just as little….

for the record, I tried to do extreme crops of details from each of the telephoto and cropped wide angle, but my focus on the wide angle was a bit off. I may have to go back and redo this. or just go with my initial conclusion…

close crops from within the telephoto shot and the wide angle crop.
close crops from within the telephoto shot and the wide angle crop.


[[1]] I simply used a 24-85 zoom lens set at f5.6. I stood in the same spot, focused on (close to) the same spot, and shot one frame at 24mm and one at 85mm. I imported the images into Lightroom, made a copy of the wide angle shot and cropped it close to the field of view of the telephoto image.[[1]]