Upload & Sell: On
ben egbert wrote:
On sharpness, I work hard to get every single pixel sharp, so I take it as a compliment. I dislike selective focus in landscapes. Works fine with birds and probably portraits. I even get irritated when I see the technique used on TV. I know my eye scans and changed focus as it moves around but everything in focus is my memory of the scene.
I view the challenge of composing a still photo for viewing by others as being a process of telling a story they will find interesting. That said I also think that a still photo is one of the most difficult of all the storytelling mediums — verbal, written, visual —because real life experiences aren't like a collection of postcards they are fluid and dynamic and accompanied by sounds and movement a still photo can't capture.
Just putting camera to eye edits the in-person experience and limits it to the FOV of the lens and proportions of the frame being used for the capture. One of the first decisions I make is whether to make the composition static or dynamic.
Do I want the viewer to focus on one area to the exclusion of all others with the same "tunnel vision" the brain creates when focusing attention on a object (static), or do I want them to wander and explore the entire frame (dynamic). If the latter, do I want them to wander aimlessly without map and compass, or do I want to create visual clues that lead them to a specific destination in the photo in "connect-the-dots" fashion.
If the intent isn't to have the viewer wander aimlessly around the photo that implies there is some destination in mind were I want to viewer to gravitate towards and dwell on, a focal point. A characteristic of static compositions is a strongly contrasting focal point. It is the attraction of the contrast in that one area in comparison with the rest of the content in the frame which attracts and holds the viewer's eye with gravitational attraction much like a black hole in space. On a light background single dark object will create that effect quite literally. On a dark background a single light toned object will have the same gravitational pull.
What affects the "gravitational" pull the focal point exerts is the degree to which the focal point contrasts. For example if you were to start with a black dot on a white page the attraction would be strong. But if you were to gradually change the tone ot the dot and make it progressively lighter the attraction would be less strong to the point where focal point and background become so similar there is no attraction at all. No clue to the viewer regarding what in the photo is most important. That same contrast gradient dynamic can be used to make one focal point subordinate to another and lead the eye of the viewer predictably.
A very effective strategy for a conventional facial portrait is to highlight the front of the face on a darker background with the clothing darker that the shaded parts of the face. Why is it effective? Because it makes the front of the face were you want the attention of the viewer focused contrast the most with the background. Using a dark background when the subject is wearing a white shirt isn't a very effective strategy because the shirt contrasts more and will attract more attention than the face. The face will will likely be seen first, but the distraction will pull the viewer's eye off it.
The center 2° of our field of view contains the color sensing cones. The rest of the retina is covered with green sensitve rod cells which are 3000x more sensitive. That's the physiological reason why when looking at anything our brain only focuses attentiion on an arc about twice the width of a thumb held at arms length. For example eading this your brain is only focusing on >>>>>> this word <<<<<<< and tuning out the rest. It constructs the complete thought contained in all these words short term memory.
The fact the rods in the periperhy are more sensitive to light explains why in a photo with a dark background and bright focal point in the center, other bright areas near the edges of the frame are so distracting. For example, include the hands in a portrait and while looking at the face with the center of focus the contrast of the hands nags at the brain to go look at them making the hands an unwanted distracton from the face if they aren't doing something interesting that adds interest to the story.
Without him holding the camera the brightly contrasting arm and hand would be a distraction. But with the camera the arm is an effective leading line pointing to the camera.
One of differences between composing portrait vs. a scenic landscape is that the composition usually has more than one focal point simply because there's so much stuff in the shot. The storytelling challenge in a scenic is conveying to the viewer which content is most important. Without that dynamic of making one focal point dominant and others subbordinate the viewer will have no clue where to look next in the photo and wander aimlessly not "connecting the dots" of the visually narrative in a meaningful way.
There are various compositional techniques that can be used to guide the viewer but tonal gradients are one of the most effective. That's the cause and effect underlying a vignette. Darkening the edges of a dark background shot a bit more than the center sends a subliminal clue to the viewer of the photo that the content in the middle is more important. If the photo has multiple focal points on a dark background the viewer is more likely to move from darker to lighter and lighter to darker. In a photo with an overall light background such as a snow or beach scene the contrast dynamic is flipped and the attractive force is from lighter to darker. So if you were to opt to vignette a light toned photo it would be more effective to make the edges lighter not darker than the center.
A vignette sends a clue to the brain of the viewer which is accustomed to "tunneling" in on what is interesting and tuning out the rest that the more sharply focused stuff in the center is more important than what is on the extreme edges of the frame. Viewers will naturally gravitate to the center of a photo when first looking at it. What a vignette does is clues their brain to go back to the center its more interesting when they later wander back out towards the edges.
A dark mat around a landscape with sky has a similar effect. The contrast of the brighter sky inevitiably pulls the eye up to the top of the frame. Hitting a darker mat with the peripheral vision on the way up sends a subliminal message to the viewer's brain to put on the brakes and go back down for a second look at the darker foreground.
Ben will likely reject this idea, but I find blurring the edges of a scenic has the same effect of guiding the eye in a composition by sending a subliminal clue that that area of the photo is less important than the sharper center. But it's only effective if the blurring is so slight it's not noticed consciously. The same is true for tonal vignettes. If the viewer notices them to the point of commenting on them one way or the other the vignette has become an counter-productive distracton.
I usually compose photos with around a contrasting focal point where I want the viewer to find and dwell on, ideally as the first and last thing fixated on when looking at the photo. To get the viewer to go back for a second look at the focal point in a complex scene I use every composition trick I know, including darkening and very slightly blurring the edges so by comparison the center seems more interesting, and surrounding the photo with a mat so the periphery around the image isn't distracting and pulling attention out. But I try to do all of that only to the degree it's not noticed. The goal is to create a subliminal instinctive reaction which manipulates the viewer's eye path in ways they are not conciously aware of.
Most lenses vignette and blur edges to some degree naturally due to their optical properties. The degree to which they do it can be noticed when lens correction is applied in Photoshop. One of the reasons vintage lenses give photos a more organic look is because before computer aided design and exotic elements the manually engineered lenses tended to have more edge fall-off and astigmatism.
To your core question. I do not wish to guide the viewer to any specific place within the scene. I want the viewer to scan the scene just as I do when there and just as I view prints made by others where I get to 10 inches which is where my best vision is. The scene itself is the subject. The story is the place taken in its entirety. My eye adjusts focus and brightness as it scans, I want my image to be adjusted the same way. But if I go all the way it will be branded HDR, so I back off a bit until this look gets more acceptance.
My lenses have some drop off in the extreme corners. They are the best I can find and could I find better lenses, I would have them. I may not see that blade of grass at the extreme corner in person, but if it is blurred when viewing the print it looks terrible.
My notion of composition is to capture a scene that first grabbed my attention for its beauty or awe. I have found that my vision without turning my head or moving my eyes is approximately 28mm on ff. If I scan with my eyes it is wider than any lens I own, but not as high. 16/9 seems to be a good aspect ratio. On this last shot, 17 was not wide enough to get the scene I wanted but I did not want to make a pano. I was too close to do one without overlap distortion. My normal view is with my head level so horizons tend to often fall on center. I do not tilt my head to get rule of thirds. But I try to include all of something like a lake or mountain or enough that it does not look cut off. Reflections are often centered because the lens is not wide enough to prevent it without a cut off. I have a 14mm on order.
If there is ugly stuff in the scene, I move it. I tossed some brush out of the water in the first image, and pruned some weeds in the flower shot. Otherwise I relocate.