Friday, July 13, 2007

Photojournalism (6): Element of pattern

Pattern is the repetition of shapes, lines, colors, or forms. It can either be a random or orderly arrangement of objects in nature or of man-made objects. It may either be a repetition of a single, basic shape or a combination of shapes.

patterns - single shapes or combinations; photo by Atty. Galacio

pattern - squares and triangles; photo by Atty. Galacio

patterns may also be of people's actions, positions, etc; photo by Atty. Galacio

People by their gestures, actions, expressions, and movements, can also create patterns, as in the picture of the girls below, fervently praying, waiting for the announcement of winners in a drama contest.

patterns - gestures, movements of people; Rizal High School, 1995, praying for the results of the drama contest; photo by Atty. Galacio

Sometimes however, a picture can become more effective or interesting if there is a disruption in the pattern of a subject, like in picture below where this girl on the left, front row, takes time out from the field demo practice to say “hello!”

disruption in patterns create interest; photo by Atty. Galacio

9 Photo Composition Tips (featuring Steve McCurry, 2002 Photographer of the Year, American Photo Magazine); Tip No. 8: Patterns and repetition

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Photojournalism (5): Elements of tone and contrast

Element of tone

No, we definitely cannot be talking about music here; I am tone deaf, you see. Tone in photography refers to the transition of light to dark within the subject of your photograph. The variations in tones provide us with the visual information enabling us to distinguish one object from another, and to determine a photograph’s quality.

Rizal High School choral interpretation contest circa early '90s; tone; fill the frame; photoby Atty. Galacio
The distribution and variation of light and shadow within the image set the mood of a photograph. A picture with primarily dark tones will convey a somber, dramatic, mysterious mood (as in the picture above of students with hands reaching upwards, towards something or someone).

Rizal High School CAT fancy drill competition; 1989-1990; photo by Atty. Galacio 
Light tones, on the other hand, convey to the viewers a cheerful, open and optimistic mood as in this picture of cadets preparing for the fancy drill.

Bright and dark tones produce visually strong image; photo by Atty. Galacio 
When bright and dark tones are both present, a bold, assertive image will be created like in this picture where the painted faces are pure white and the T-shirts are solid black.

By the way, in the climactic scene of the movie “City Hal,l” Al Pacino playing the role of New York City mayor Joe Pappas, says: “There’s black and there’s white. It’s the grays in between that give us the problems.” He was referring of course to ethics and moral standards (are there such things?) in politics. If he had been referring to black and white photography, he could not have been more wrong.

Buffy's boyfriend; 1992; full tonal range; photo by Atty. Galacio 
Good black and white photographs often display what photographers refer to as “full tonal range.” A good picture, in terms of tone, oftentimes exhibit solid blacks, pure whites and varying degrees of grays, like in this picture where the guy on the right obviously has a face only his mother (or Buffy the Vampire Slayer) could love. His fangs are pure white, the background on the upper left hand corner is pure black, while the bags on the foreground exhibit various shades of gray. A picture with only black and white tones would just show the subject’s shape or outline (known as a “silhouette”). The varying shades of gray (dark, light or medium) generally produce a more aesthetically pleasing image.

So you see, “there’s black and there’s white. It’s the grays in between that give us good pictures.”

Element of contrast

High contrast image; 1989; photo by Atty. Galacio 
Closely related to tone, contrast is the difference between the strongest highlight and the darkest shadow in a photograph. When a picture uses tones at the opposite ends of the tonal range, it is said to have “high contrast.” Photographs with extremely high contrast like in the picture above will lack detail in the burned out highlights (the ground) and in the almost solid black shadows (the desks and the overhanging foliage).

“Low contrast” images on the other hand, have a limited range of tones. When the range between the highlights and the shadows is very low, the resulting pictures will look muddy and dull. Nothing is black and white as the movie “White Man’s Burden” starring John Travolta and Sidney Poitier would say.

You have to keep in mind that the eye sees the world differently from the way film does. While our eyes can distinguish tones in a scene with a brightness range of 1:1000, film can only record a very limited range of brightness. The technique is to squint your eyes while looking at your subject - this will give you a fairly good idea of how the scene will record on film.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Photojournalism (4): Elements of form and texture

Related posts: “Elements of photojournalism” and “Campus news photography

Element of form

In the early days of photography, tribesmen from jungles and mountains believed that cameras had the power to steal their soul and imprison them in a piece of paper. But photographs really are just reproductions of what is actually there in reality. The problem oftentimes, however, is that a lot of pictures do not have depth, which makes them look unreal. Here we need the element of form. While shapes are two-dimensional, form provides a third dimension – depth. If you are mathematically oriented, think of it this way; shapes only have the x- and y-axis, while form has the x-, y-, and z-axis.

form; still life; 1992; photo by Atty. Galacio
Rizal High School musical theater 1993; photo by Atty. GalacioThe word photography actually comes from two words – “photon” meaning light and “graphein” meaning “to write.” As someone once said, without light, photography is not possible. And so it is with form and depth. When light strikes an object, it creates highlights and shadows. If I remember correctly my Humanities I subject in UP Diliman way back in 1973, the interplay of light and shadow is called “chiaroscuro.” The combination of highlights and shadows convey a sense of depth, of volume or of the subject’s solidity like the pictures above of the rubber doll nestling in the rusted milk cans, and the folds in the nuns’s uniforms.

Note: We will later on discuss the quality and direction of light; enough to say for now that in terms of the direction of light, sidelighting best emphasizes form.

Element of texture

My cute nephew JR 1993; texture; picture diagonal; photo by Atty. GalacioA child’s soft skin, a stuffed toy’s rough, furry exterior ... While form gives us an idea of what it would be like to hold the object in our photograph, texture gives us an idea how that object’s surface would be like to touch, whether it would be rough or smooth.

In picture above, my nephew JR poses together with his stuffed toy. He’s cute because he looks like me. Hold it! Let me get that straight. I don’t look like the stuffed toy; I look like JR, okay? okay? You can almost feel the softness of his skin and cheeks, and the furry exterior of that stuffed parrot.

texture;1992; cutest picture in history of photography, taken by Atty. GalacioThe stuffed toys in the picture above are obviously just enjoying themselves, hanging out together and, although, they’re in the shade, you can also sense their furry texture. I’m sure the girls among you will agree with me that this picture is probably the cutest picture in the history of photography!

Photographs (with fast lenses and slow film; more on this later) can very accurately and realistically portray textures but this may not always be desirable. In portraits, for example, subjects often want to look years younger than they really are (men!) or more beautiful than they really are (women!).

Oftentimes, photographers have to use soft focus lenses or diffusion filters (and now, Adobe Photoshop and other software) to “alter the textural quality of the image” which is really a euphemism for removing or hiding the subject’s lines, wrinkles, blemishes, warts, etc. Why can’t people be like Oliver Cromwell, England’s protector who beheaded King Charles I? When he was asked by a portrait painter to turn his face sideways, he ordered, “Paint me, warts and all!”

In landscapes or nature photography, however, scenes sometimes look best when the texture of rock formations, trees, etc. stand out. (By the way, Galen Rowell is known as America’s best scenic photographer. Did you know that before he became a photographer, he worked as an auto mechanic? Great career change!)

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