The element of art called value. Value means exposure variance, the darks, lights and mediums of art or in a photograph. This can more easily be seen when a photo or drawing is produced in black and white. The depth of shadow and the height of highlights are on either ends of the idea of value. A histogram is valuable for determining the overall tonal quality of a photograph. If the curve leans to one direction or another it shows the overall value of the photograph. One of the best ways to see value in a photograph or picture can be to squint or blur it to see what it looks like without definition. In essence it is a way to see the compositional arrangement and where the eye is brought to in the photograph or picture because the lights will always draw your eye to them. Rembrandt, though a very realistic painter, was magical at this as the painter of light. If you blur any of his paintings you can see what I mean, he was abstract in a very realistic way just by the way he used lights and darks in his work. Value can REALLY make a piece of art good. Without value a piece of work is without definition. Sometimes using one tonal quality is valuable in conveying certain moods, but you have to realize the impact of value before you remove it to be on only one tonal level and understand what it does for your work.
From conceptualization to actualization value should be considered in the creation of your work.
In abstract work, the mindset is different than if you want something to be very realistic; yet they both require a clear understanding of value range. Realism demands a good range of values to create definition of your subject, from the blackest black to the whitest white. Once you move away from realism the floodgates of creativity arrive. One word of caution. Don’t use bad camera skills or poor quality work to justify a vision devoid of value or to push the contrast level high to attain what you should have captured initially.
I would recommend that you take the time to learn your camera or other medium well, getting good with realism and realistic shots so you know what your camera or medium is capable of before you use value to fully define your vision or style. Starting with a good photograph is essential to using value in your vision. As an artist learning to draw realistically what your eye sees is an essential precursor to allowing your creativity to have free reign. In art you have to really know how to draw well to be a good artist and as a photographer, you really have to know how to use your camera well to be a good photographer and to stretch the bounds of your vision. Practice those skills continually and simultaneously to being creative in what you do. Once you reach a point where you can selectively create the evocative mood you want in what you do with proper manipulation and not just by accident, your vision can become much clearer. Refining and defining what you do and what you want to say with your work is a constant transformation. To get people to feel what it is you are trying to evoke from your work makes for one very happy artist!
Consider this pair of photographs, one in color, the other transformed to black and white yet the mood stays the same because it is not just the color but the value in the photograph that creates the pleasant mood.
As a photographer there are several tools you can use to achieve the full range of value in your work. You have the gray card or color charts like the color passport from Xrite to help you in post-processing to get the correct lighting in which you were photographing, on to your computer and that is a good start; they do work wonders and can create some ease in post-processing especially for the portrait, fashion or wedding photographer. In post-processing there are ways to achieve a better range of value as well, such as the black in light room or using the histogram to bring the blacks and whites forward in your photograph. If you can get to a true black in your photograph you will find that the rest of the photograph will follow to bring in more contrast and depth to your work, which is the aim of value, to define depth and subject. Far more than you might realize the blacks are extremely necessary.
Low value photography has more of a feel for the contemplative or sad and depressing so it might be a way to use the darker values to convey those types of scenes or concepts. High value photography might convey a more carefree or cheerful and happy feeling so it’s use seems more appropriate.
Once value is mastered it can be a powerful element in your work and vision. A picture or photograph with extremely high or low value does not mean it is over or under-exposed as part of your vision. Value can play a large role in conveying your vision and the feelings you want to evoke with your work.
Albums for the element of value are found here on Facebook and here on Flickr.
Today we approach the third element in art. Texture. First I want you to consider doing an exercise. Take a sheet of blank white typing paper and a pencil. Walk about your home and if you have no snow, outside too, and begin by laying the sheet of paper on various textures, rubbing the side of the pencil on the sheet of paper laid over an area your eye sees as texture. You will find some amazing results! Here is a sheet of eight that I did the other day myself.
Consider some of the textures on your paper. Are there any there that really didn’t show up like you thought they might? Carpeting, a lampshade, something? You can see it, you can feel it, but now why do those that appear to have texture not show up in your rubbing? It’s the light! How the light hits an object helps to define that texture. It is how textures transfer to a two dimensional surface. To reproduce texture on a two dimensional surface requires manipulation of light and value. We can feel it, touch it but can only see it because of light. You’ve heard of the “golden hours” in photography it’s not just the color the light emits but also consider the texture and definition from light to be one of the reasons as well.
Take these two photographs from Fiji. It is the same water, intangible on paper, yet the light has made for two very different “feelings” within them. The calm water of the morning light in one leads to a feeling of a peaceful morning and the tide water arriving in ripples as the sun sets adds more dynamics to the second. While color plays a role in what the photographs evoke, so does the texture of the water. They both provide an overwhelming sense of feeling within the photograph and evoke very different emotions.
Animals are also a great example of how texture plays a role in photography. This photograph of a koala, up close with its well defined fur makes it seems so soft, luscious and thick. It definitely helps portray the notion of how soft and cuddly they might be contrary to their actual needs and demeanor. They cannot be handled very much or long in any given day, yet this photograph makes you want to take and cuddle it all day long all because of the texture the photograph presents of its fur!
Now look at this crocodile! It you weren’t apprehensive about it before you might be after looking at this photograph. The eyes and the texture of the skin definitely lead you to a cold, detached feel. You certainly would not want to cuddle with that croc all day long!
One more set of photographs to look at in regard to considering texture are of people. Look at the photograph of this young girl, smooth skin, soft and supple definitely shows her youth and innocence. Now consider the role texture places in signifying age in a portrait. Look at the second photograph of this cormorant fisherman and the texture in their face shows a life well-spoken and defined and adds to the interest of the photograph making you want to know more about them.
Texture can be emphasized as a way to generate a certain feeling in your photography. It does not need to be simply of animals although it is a universal way for me to explain it. You can find it in nature as well, stone, grass, wood, dirt, the clouds. Everything really has texture or the absence thereof. In other words the "absence" of texture can be just as important or interesting in simplifying a subject as much as a splash of texture does to add contrast. I think of Lightroom, where you can add or take away clarity where it manipulates the mid-tone contrasts in a photograph. Use this tool to help define what you want people to “feel” in your work and portfolio.
It reminds me of grunge or some street photography where you can even find they have added an overlay to produce a specific “feel” to their work. Video games and much of their visual marketing use this method as well.
I hope you begin to think about what a specific texture might invoke in your feelings, how it creates a mood or defines a particular type of work. How it defines your work. Begin to think about all three of these elements together, line, shape and texture. How will you use them to convey what you have brought to your photographs and what you might desire to be known to bring to your work? What do each of these things bring to the overall essence of your work? How do your photographs or a body of work emulate you?
Keep your eye out for textures this week and see what you can find, what you can take a photograph of and how you might use it to your best advantage in defining your photographic vision and portfolio.
We have explored line as an element of art and if you missed it look at last Monday’s blog post.I hope you have all taken the time to look through your portfolio or your favorite photographs to see what kind of role line plays in them and if it is something you want to explore further to bring your vision into focus. As we continue to explore the five elements of art; the second one I want to explore today is that of shape.
Everything is made up of shapes; one just can’t get around shape!(Well, actually there are round shapes-circles, cylinders…)There are two dimensional shapes like circles, squares, triangles and ovals that we all think of immediately, we can all easily draw these on a piece of paper.Perhaps as a child you played with toys and manipulated shapes into particular matching spaces.But there are also three dimensional shapes like cones, cylinders, spheres and cubes, shapes with volume and mass in which perspective and shading will bring about on a two-dimensional surface like paper. Shape is the "architecture" of a drawing, painting or photograph.If you look and think shapes everything is made up of shapes, even a square is really two triangles!Most objects we don’t think of so literally as purely made up as shapes, after all isn’t it just a face or a building or a landscape, isn’t it just a starfish?Shape is not confined to being angular or abstract, but the elements are in everything; we just don’t always look at things and think, that’s a circle or square or a triangle.But my largest purpose in exploring this early is to get you thinking about the shape of things and what those shapes convey, angular and sharp or harsh or are they fluid and circular or sensual?If we begin to think shape we can begin to realize what role it plays in our work. I want you to think about the human face for a moment, we all love people and a face has similar qualities in shape with some variations on that shape.Some faces are more angular and some more oval.Please consider this photograph.I only chose a few prominent shapes in the photograph but I am certain you can find more within those shapes particularly within the face.
Here also notice a simile of sorts where you have a rectangle, triangle, circle, skewed rectangle, and then finally a triangle.If the eyes don’t “grab” your attention the placement of the oval in the photograph will. Here is an example of a more angular and square face.
We can see where shape/s might be repeated; even though they are different objects the shapes contained in them may be the same---and don’t forget the “negative space!” You can see how shape will come into play in the principle of balance. Consider these photographs from nature and the shapes found within them. Notice on the sunflower photograph called “Flaming” we have the idea of a circle, even though it is not fully visible contributing to the abstract feel of this photograph.
And this architectural photograph of the Sydney Opera House where the triangular sail was its inspiration.
I also want to direct you to a few photographs from my fellow photographer Amanda Stone.In this particular photograph the elements of shape make this image wonderful to me; take note of the negative space involved in the snow angels on the driveway and the repetition of the triangle and how that makes it especially appealing.Take special note of how the negative space triangles produce a simile of the other snow angels and is an angel all on its own!
Do you see a thread in your work for shape to be a predominant factor?What do the shapes in your work convey to those who view it?Does it evoke the kind of response you are trying to bring forward?Shape does come into play in composition so it is definitely something for us to think about and consider; such in that you don't want this big old square or other shape floating in the middle of the photo, unless you want to do a Dali!Now think about line and shape together and how they fit in your photography and your vision.What is it that you are choosing to do in your work, is it conscious? Can it be?If we contemplate some of these concepts before we go out to photograph things our photography will maintain our vision more fully as we consciously bring in or leave things out of the frame.
Some masters to consider studying when it comes to shape playing a major part in their work, view the work of Cezanne, particularly his still life paintings and Chagall and his stained glass windows and Picasso or any cubist really.They were all great shape artists.
Today’s album to consider and think about shapes is found here on Facebook and here on Flickr.