The Inherent Property of Photography

This post will actually be about technique, more specifically the aperture. Most photographers know that a combination of shutter speed and aperture together ensure a correct exposure whether it’s on a digital sensor or on film. But the aperture has a much more profound role to play in terms of visual language. It determines the depth of field of any photograph. It can make everything from close-up to infinity seem sharp or it can make the focus only a couple of inches wide and knock everything else out of focus. How can we use that creatively? Fundamentally in two ways. By reducing the depth of field we can make the viewer focus on the main subject or we can create an illusion of three-dimensional depth in the photograph.

The fact that a picture in itself is two-dimensional gives rise to special challenges in order to transform the perception of three-dimensional depth onto the flat surface. Depth is simply missing in any picture. It’s not a new challenge and it’s something painters through time have dealt with in various ways. Among other means they have used perspective to bring out a feeling of depth. The ancient Egyptions rendered a man at the far end of a row of marching soldiers as large as the man closest to the observer, and thus really didn’t create much feeling of depth. The old Chinese did the same on their rice paper paintings, but they were still able to create a feeling of depth. They always placed near object down in the left corner and faraway objects in the upper right corner of the frame. So even if a mountain in the foreground and a mountain in the background were rendered at the same size, the painting would still be perceived as being three-dimensional. Eventually painters, particularly in Europe, started to utilized convergence of parallel lines and diminution of object size to create a feeling of depth. And during the Renaissance they even went to extremes, by exaggerating the effects of convergence and diminution.

With the use of limited depth of field it’s possible to create another sensation of depth. The eye can only focus on one plane at a time. Objects in front of or behind this plane appear more blurred the farther away they are from it. As a result, contrasts between sharpness and blur, creates an impression of depth. This is something we can use creatively in our photographic language. A shallow depth of field will at the same time make the eye stay on whatever is focused and this it’s a great way to clean up an otherwise messy or chaotic background.

Most people know that the use of a wide angel lens results in more depth of field than the use of a telephoto lens. But it’s not quite true. What really matters is the scale of the object rendered. If you move in with a wide angel lens so that the object is rendered at the same scale on the image sensor as with a longer lens, the depth of field will be the same with the same aperture, albeit the perspective will be completely different. With this in mind it should also make sense that a camera with a small sensor, give rise to more depth field compared to one with a larger picture frame. As a matter of fact most point-and-shoot cameras have so small sensors that it’s virtually impossible to effectively limit the depth of field. That is why so many photographers chose a so-called full-framed camera, simply to have more options to play with (among other qualities). So to summarize: The only two factors that affect the depth of field are scale and size of the aperture. Use it wisely in your visual expression!

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A Tool for Our Heart and Soul


I want to follow up my post Like Roots to a Plant last week, continuing the thoughts about the tension between Eros and Logos. Or between craftsmanship and expressing the heart. Is there a contradiction between the two? Personally I don’t think so, but I do notice many see craft as a barrier between the heart and the art. What they tend to forget is that craft is a living exchange. By craftsmanship we breathe life into our artistic work; by craftsmanship we transmit and transfer our vision into an artistic expression. In addition craftsmanship provides a means for our own growth and development and asks for us to tunnel our mind, heart and soul through the technical possibilities and requirements of whatever artistic medium we are working with.

At the same time we should not look upon craft solely as a technical requirement of the medium. We shouldn’t just feel forced to learn about the technique of the artistic medium in order to be able to express whatever our vision is, or feel opposed to it because it hinders the same expression. And we should definitely not raise technique into an objective of its own. Technique merely represents the tools, the study of the shaping means of our work. Technique alone, without the guiding influence of the mind and heart, is sterile. While it is desirable and undeniably useful to maintain a respect and appreciation for the best tools or elegant solutions, it is important to avoid the common trap of mistaking technical excellence for the soul of creative expression.

Craft must be put into service of our vision. It comes down to using our bodies, minds and hearts and extending them through craftsmanship and our work with the physical material. As a matter of fact the craft is an extension of ourselves. It doesn’t matter which art form we are talking about. The camera is an extension of the eye, the paintbrush and pen an extension of the hand and arm, the potter’s wheel an extension of the centred presence of the human body. And so it is even with computers, for those of us who channel our work through digital tools. The computer and the action of the silicon chip, with its billions of instructions per second, is a metaphor for an extension of the human nervous system, the human brain. The child starts by painting directly with its fingers, later on we start to use tools as an extensions of ourselves. But basically, and at its most simple level, it’s all the same.

Thus, we shouldn’t raise technique up as god itself. Neither should we fall into the trap of seeing craftsmanship as an obstruction between our heart and our work—and to be avoided. Because by knowledge of craftsmanship we are better capable of making the transition from heart and soul to artistic expression. I find it strange that particularly in photography technical knowledge has gain a bad reputation by some artists. It’s look down upon as geeky or of interest for only those who don’t care about the art. But again the craft is only a tool—and a useful tool in the creative process. Nobody asks whether an author needs to know the grammar of his or her language. And so it should be with any artistic work. The craft has no use of its own; it is merely a tool for our heart and soul.

Some Things Never Change

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In my post A Delicate Balance last week, I wrote about the dialectic process that photography is. On one hand, you have the technical foundation, that a photograph comes into being by technical means; and on the other hand, that for a photo to capture its audience it needs to hold some emotional content. I also stated that the later is the more important factor. As I wrote, an emotionally loaded but technically poor photo trumps a technically perfect photo lacking emotional content—any time.

What I find interesting is that today it seems like it’s easier than ever to take photos. Present days cameras have become so advanced and at the same time so easy to handle, that everybody can make a technical well capture photograph without knowing much about the technical part of photography at all.

I want to underscore that I just wrote that it seems easier than ever. Because it still isn’t easier to capture the emotional content—and not even technically is it easier, really, with respect to using technique to emphasize a photograph’s content and story. Yes, it is easier to get a perfectly exposed and focused photo, but technique is not only about this. Technique has a far more important role to play—at least if you take your photography serious. You want to understand how you can use for instance shutter speed and aperture visually and how they impact the visual language to substantiate the story you are trying to tell.

The reality is that taking photos that both engage and capture the essence of a moment requires more than just having a advance and intelligent camera—no matter how much of a technical wonder it is. As much as any camera today operates stunningly well under most conditions—and their capabilities keep improving every year, they cannot make the decisions that result in great photos. Only you can. No automatic setting can determine how you want to frame your subject. No automatic camera can decide the best moment to press the shutter button. No camera can choose what you want to photograph. Only you can.

Photography is a skill and a craft. Yes, the technological development has, on some levels, made it easier than ever to take photos. But if you desire more than just perfectly focused and exposed photos—which, by the way, is not guaranteed in and of itself even with today’s cameras—you still need to learn the craft. The camera cannot think for you or distinguish between a terrible photo, an ordinary photo or the masterpiece. You still have to take command of the photographic moment and the camera—whether it is a cell phone, a point-and-shoot camera or an advanced DSLR you use.

Two very important factors that has a huge impact on the visual expression of photography is complete independent on the camera you use and how advanced—or not—it is. The fact is, these two factors are all yours to decide and this has not changed a bit since photography was invented in 1826 when Nicéphore Niépce captured the first ever photograph.

Your choice of space and time when you take a photo will always be independent on the camera and camera technique. If you want to take photos that respond with an audience, you will need to learn how to use both space and time to capture those telling images. In many ways, this is the classical time-space continuum. This space-time continuum is a mathematical and physical model that combines space and time into a single idea. We all exist in this continuum, whether we are aware of it or not, and every photo captured will relate to it.

Don’t let me over-complicate things, though. Understanding that a photo is taken in a certain place and at a certain time is easy enough to grasp. That in itself will have some historical value, but the space-time continuum has far wider implications on how a photograph is perceived.

Space, for instance, as a primary consideration, goes to what you point your camera at, your choice of subject. You need to be in the same space as the subject you want to photograph in order to be able to photograph it. Maybe one day you will be able to capture images formed in your mind without having to direct a camera towards a physical object. However, as I see it, it would no longer be a photograph.

Therefore, you need to pick a space that coincides with the subject you want to photograph. Furthermore, once you have decided on what you want to photograph you also have to decide how you want to frame it. This is clearly space related, too. Which point-of-view you decide on will have a huge impact on how your story in the photo is told. Then finally, you have to decide how you want this stage to be built. What do you leave out and what do you keep in? All these considerations are related to an understanding of space.

Time, on the other hand, is a variable that has other implications on a photograph. First of all, you need to consider when you want to take a photograph. Traditionally, most photographers know that taking a landscape photograph when the sun sits low on the horizon creates a very different result than a photograph of the same landscape taken at midday when the sun is in zenith. Time has also to do with your choice of moment, when to push the shutter release. In a landscape photograph just mentioned, the exact moment will not be as critical as when you a shooting some sport event in which a fraction of a second between two photos can make a big difference in the end result. Finally, time is also a cause for consideration as to what shutter speed you want use to render your idea of the subject. This later time factor is of course a little more technically depended, as you will have to choose a shutter speed that the camera lets you use.

Being consciously aware of space and time will make you a better photographer. The good part of learning to navigate them? You will never have to relearn how to use them if you want at some point to change your camera, because these factors—which have a huge impact on the visual expression—are complete camera independent.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Canon EOS-5D and a 24/105 mm lens set at 24 mm. Shutter speed: 1/200 of a second. Aperture: f/5.6. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Float Like a Butterfly

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What we photograph is never the same as what is capture in the photo. A photo is not reality (except as the reality «photo»). A photo is never the truth. A photo is never objective. Many will even say that a photograph is not a representation of reality. Of course, this quickly becomes an intellectual and philosophical discussion, and maybe not of much value for any practical uses.

Still, understanding what a photograph is does have quite important for anyone working with photography as an artistic or visual expression. However, it’s easy to disconnect from an abstract discussion about some intangible characterisation of the inherent properties of photography. Here is an attempt to maybe make it more tangible.

I have a couple of times in this blog mentioned the book The Photographer’s Playbook. One of the contributors is Will Steacy, a photographer who’s work has been featured in publications such as New Yorker, Esquire, Time, Wired, The Guardian, just to mention a few. In The Photographer’s Playbook he has written a little piece about a really fundamental understanding of photography, which I want to quote fully and unedited:

«It’s all a big lie. All of it. The sooner you know this and accept it, the better off you will be. We, as artists, photographers, writers, academics, etc., spend our whole lives and careers devoted to the impossible task of chasing truth, a fruitless attempt to translate life into a tangible commodity.

A monarch butterfly flapping its wings in frantic spasms against the window of an uptown A train at 1:47 am on a Tuesday night in July.

Sitting there on that train with exhausted workers and drunks waiting for the next stop—when the doors will swing open and that trapped butterfly will have twenty seconds to make its escape. That is art, that is life, and it will never exist as you experience it on a canvas, in a photograph, or in these concoctions of letters we call words. The best you get is a memory.

Never forget it. Never stop allowing yourself to be there on the train and notice the silent struggle of a caged beauty flapping its wings in a desperate fight for survival.

And never forget, that despite our best efforts—despite the tireless fight to capture the details and tidbits of life and attempt to share these experiences with the world in some abstracted form, from which the world will know exactly what it felt like that night in July on the subway—nothing will ever compare to the feeling of being there. Just like the hopelessly optimistic butterfly flapping its wings, the artist in us will never stop trying to capture and share the world as we experience it. Your greatest asset is an endless inventory of Tuesday night train rides. This is the only morsel of truth in the big lie.»

Facts about the photo: It was taken with a Canon EOS 5D with a 28-135 mm set at 75 mm zoom. Shutter speed: 1/60 of a second. Aperture: f/5,0. The photo was processed in Lightroom, Photoshop and with the apps On1 Effects and Niksoft Color Efex.

A Good Photograph, What is that?


What is that makes a photograph good? Photographers through all times have pondered over this question as have artists in any other creative fields about their kind work. There isn’t really a simple answer to the question, and the opinions are definitely divided. But some time ago I came across a book by the renowned, late photographer Andreas Feininger. The Complete Colour Photographer from 1969 is quite a thorough and remarkable book, and despite the title of the book it only has a handful of colour plates. Mostly the book consists of Feininger’s thoughts about photography, and he is expressing them very clearly and with sincerity.

One place he writes about what makes a photograph good. For him it comes down to four components: Stopping power, purpose and meaning, emotional impact and graphic quality. Let me quote a few phrases from the books, since I think Andreas Feininger has a very profound understanding and a useful perspective on what it is that makes a photo good.

«Stopping power: To produce any kind of an effect, a photograph must first of all be noticed. Unfortunately, today, people are so satiated with photographs that a picture must have some rather unusual qualities to receive attention. To command it, a photograph must have stopping power.

Stopping power is that quality which makes a photograph visually unusual – “outstanding” insofar as it stands out among other pictures. Its essence is surprise or shock effect. Without stopping power, photographs easily go unnoticed – and an unnoticed photograph is a wasted statement.

Purpose and Meaning: To make a photograph good, more is needed than stopping power which, in essence, is merely the equivalent of a blinker light – a device to attract attention. Having caught the observer’s eye, a photograph must have something to hold his [or her] interest. It must say something, give something, make the viewer think and somehow enrich the experience. It must have purpose and meaning.

Although the terms “purpose” and “meaning” are often used interchangeably, their connotations are subtly different, and I feel that this fine distinction can be of help to the photographer. As I see it, in photography, purpose is equivalent to the intent of the photographer – the “why” of the photograph; meaning is equivalent to the content of the picture – the “what” of the photograph.

Emotional impact: In a similar way that a photograph’s purpose and meaning are aimed at the viewer’s intellectual faculties, a picture’s emotional impact is directed towards the heart.

In order to create pictures with emotional impact it is essential that the photographer himself feels the emotions which he wishes to convey to others through his work. It is for this reason that I consider genuine interest in a subject the first condition for making good photographs.

Graphic Quality: In order to communicate, a photographer must express his intent with graphic means – the lines, forms, colors, and other marks which form the picture, the instruments of visual representation indispensable to expressing ideas, concepts, and images through the medium of photography which in combination give a photograph its graphic quality.»

Andreas Feininger’s work has delighted millions of people all over the world. His pictures appeared in many European and American magazines – notably in Life, for which he was a staff photographer for nearly twenty years.

Don’t Chase Style

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A personal style is like a signature for any photographer – any artist for that matter. As we at a young age set out on our photographic endeavour this easily becomes a major mantra, and we start searching for our own style. We think we can skew the horizon, and that becomes our style. We think we can make dark and mysterious pictures, and that becomes our style. We think we can increase the colour saturation or do some other post production trick and that becomes our style.

I remember at one point I became very good with my handheld flash, I would even say I became an expert getting the most out of this devise that many photographers otherwise struggle with. Particularly I got very enthusiastic about the result from using open flash. In the end all my picture ended up being shot with open flash. Open flash became my signature – or so I thought back then. But I was only fooling myself. I finally realized that style is not something we force our pictures through, like a filter or some magic transformation, in order for it to become «our» signature. Instead of becoming a signature, it becomes a limitation. When my mantra was open flash, I stop looking for other qualities of light that could be used – and better used in many occasions – in my pictures. My craving for a personal style turned in to a self-inflicted inhibition.

Yes, we can impose various styles on our pictures, and should do so to enhance whatever we try to tell with the pictures. But that isn’t the same as a personal style our an artistic voice. It’s just using tools we have to our disposal. Chasing style in one way or another is never going to give us a personal signature or an artistic voice. There isn’t any quick-fix to the outcome. The artistic voice comes with time, and it comes from within. When we stay honest, authentic and true to ourselves in the way we photograph, over time our voice will crystallize and become apparent. We get a signature that is not depending on various tricks and enhancements, but is by character a reflection of ourselves. With time we develop our vision – we look for certain aspects of life and emotions and graphical qualities that we related to, and this vision again will develop our personal voice. The more conscious we become about our vision, the more clearly our personal style will develop. Style is – put simple – an outcome of becoming aware of our vision.

As for me, open flash has long time ago ceased to be the all-encompassed answer to my lighting needs. As a matter of fact I hardly use flash any more. Today I prefer available light, which is so much more varied and full of depth and tonality than anything I could do with a flash. Nevertheless, available light hasn’t become «my» signature, I still use flash when I think it’s appropriate or when it will enhance the visual expression in my pictures.

Accidental Works of Art

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As obsessed with photography as I have almost always been I have as well always been interested in finding out what makes photography different from any other media or expression of art. I have blogged about it a great many times. It’s partly been looking at how the technical aspect of photography defines its expression, for instance in posts such as The Essential Property of Photography, The Inherent Property of Photography and The Uniqueness of a Gradient. I have also explored the subject on a more principal or philosophical level, such as in the posts The Heart of Photography, What Does It Matter! and At the End of the Rainbow.

But there is at least one more aspect of photography that I find very intriguing. Photography is the only medium in which there is even the possibility of an accidental masterpiece. You won’t find that in other arts. You cannot make an accidental masterpiece if you are a painter or a sculptor. It’s just not going to happen.

This is simultaneously photography’s great advantage and its Achilles’ heel: It’s the easiest medium in which on some levels to be competent. Anybody can be a marginally capable photographer, but it takes a lot of work to learn to become even a competent painter. With this much said, I think at the same time while photography is the easiest medium to become competent in, it is probably the hardest one in which to develop a distinctive personal vision. It’s the hardest medium in which to separate yourself from all those other people who are doing reasonable good stuff and to find a personal voice, your own vision, and to make something that is truly, memorably yours and not someone else’s. A recognized signature style of photography is an incredibly difficult thing to achieve.

The fun part, though, is that even without a distinctive voice, we can all happen to make captivating images, through accidents or incidents or just by pure luck. And, yes, we may even be able to produce a masterpiece. The stimulating outcome is that sometimes those accidental works of art that are capable of engaging beyond the simplest recognition, offer us a new view on our media, give us new ideas and provide us with a fresh approach, that we may utilize next time – and by so doing starting to develop our distinctive voice. It has always amazed me that just when I think there is nothing left to do in photography and that all permutations and possibilities have been exhausted, someone comes along and puts the media to a new use, and makes it his or her own, yanks it out of this kind of amateur status, and makes it as profound and moving as formally interesting as any other medium.

Wide Angle for People

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Nothing is quite like photographing people – for me at least. It’s such a pivotal experience on many levels. Of course it’s about finding a way to capture the essence of a person – or his or her soul, as has often been stated. But it’s also about connecting, and about the personal exchanges happening between the photographer and the individual(s) being photographed. There is the human aspect of photographing people as well as the creative aspect of the process. When the two really bond the experience can even be elevated to a spiritual level. That’s when the interaction levitates beyond the human and physical realm, when the exchange transcends into an illimitable relationship. Finally there is also something very personal and self-reflective about photographing other people. You learn about yourself in the mirror image of the other person, you widen your social skills, you discover new facets of human existence, you expand your universe and not the least you break through some of your inhibitions every time you confront another fellow human being with your camera. Anyone who has photographed on the street knows how intimidating it can be to approach a total stranger. It’s very challenging and daunting. Among other emotional strains you have to face your own fear of being turned down. But when you do break that initial inhibition the result is always an exhilarated blissfulness.

There is more to it, though. The human exchange is not only a personal incentive; it becomes a very visual part of the final image. It’s almost as if it gets ingrained in the expression of the photograph. The exchange between the photographer and the photographed will indisputably make an immense visual footprint on the emotional content of the image. That is of course if there is a human exchange in the first place. For that very reason a valuable part of photographs of people will be missed out if they are captured with a longer lens – simply because the exchange will be missing. Then it becomes more about light, forms, moment and the photographers sole vision at the moment of capture. Which of course there is nothing wrong with; it just becomes a totally different kind of image. But if we want to capture that feeling of exchange between the photographer and the person being photographed, we as photographers need to get close. That’s where the wide angle lens helps, because it forces us to get close.

This is one reason to use a wide angle lens to photograph people. Another is the wider angle itself. It places the person in its surroundings; you get a connection between the person and his or her environment, which adds depth – literally and figuratively – to the visual content. With a telephoto lens the background get squeezed out of the frame because of its narrower viewing angle. In addition; often whatever is visible of the background will be blurred because of smaller depth of field caused by photographing with a telephoto lens. This can of course be a benefit when you want to isolate the person you are photographing, but will on the other hand not reveal anything of her or his environment. It simplifies the visual language, which again can be a quality you want to utilize. But when the environment is important the wide angle lens is the right choice. A third benefit of using a wide angle lens is its manner of isolating the subject. When you move in close with a wide angle lens the person you are photographing will become the bigger visual element within the frame, while the background and whatever is in the background will become much smaller and thus relatively more insignificant. This turns the focus of the viewer to the person in front and thus isolating him or her in a more symbolic way.

When using a wide angle lens to photograph people there are a couple of things to look out for, particularly the closer you get and the wider angle you use. The wide angle lens will distort the subject in various ways. For the same reason it isolates a person against the background it will emphasize elements sticking out towards the lens. So if you photograph a person head on and very close, the nose will be much closer to the front lens than the rest of the person. The person being photographed will most likely not be very happy with the result, because the nose becomes a gigantic monolith while the rest of the face gets distorted the other way around to a narrow, stretched out head towards the background. To avoid this you will either have to back up a little of find another angle to photograph the face from. Make the person turn the face a little bit to either sides will remedy the distorted nose. Some other facial parts will still be victims of distortion of course, but that might not be visually disturbing of even very noticeable for an untrained eye. This is by the way why a telephoto lens of 80-135 millimetre (for a 35 millimetre frame) is regarded as a perfect portrait lens, since it renders the proportion of the face in the most natural way. But then of course you defy the purpose of wanting to use a wide angle lens.

Another feature to be aware of when photographing with a wide angle lens is the distortion that happens towards the edges of a frame. This is due to the projection of a three-dimensional object onto a flat image sensor and as such not a flaw of the lens itself. But it will distort a face quite obvious when it’s place towards the edge of the frame. Again the wider the lens the more distorted the subject will become. You can place a lot of different objects close to the edge without the viewer noticing the distortion, but we have a small tolerance for any abnormal alteration of human faces. It’s still possible to place human beings out towards the edges of the frame, but you have to play with angles and distances and simply move around the person and take a lot of photos to make sure the distortion doesn’t become a liability. This said, though, I have photographed people close up with a 16 millimetre lens, shot portraits of them and placed them towards the edge and been able to do so without much noticeable distortion. You just have to play and experiment.

Have you ever photographed people with a wide angle lens? I challenge you to give it a try. It will be fun – and challenging. And, yes, you will feel intimidated, but still, give it a try. If you haven’t photographed people with a wide angle lens before, I assure you that you will return with quite some different pictures than you usually do.

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The Lost Land

Do you remember Eric Dooh in our first post The Heir from Nigeria? He had inherited a fish farm, a bakery, a school and acres of farmland from his father. But in the end of last century the whole area was polluted by oil production and thousands and thousands of barrels of oil were spread out in the whole Niger Delta. Eric lost everything. When Shell did a so-called cleaning of Eric’s land, they handed him two boxes of Omo, washing detergent, telling he could spread it over his fish ponds. In this video Eric Dooh tells how has life has been completely changed.

The Uniqueness of a Gradient

Gamle damplokomotiver samles fra hele landet og restaureres

I have in previous posts talked about the specific properties of photography, what makes it stand out from other works of art. My focus was – as it almost always is – the visual language, and in this case the visual language that is genuine for photography. In the post The Essential Property of Photography I talked about how the camera’s shutter is the most unique feature of the photographic process enabling the photographer to captured either decisive moments or alternatively, by time exposure, show the structure or form of movement, or express a feeling of speed or movement. In the post The Inherent Property of Photography I talked about the aperture and how this translates into important elements of the visual language, by determining the depth of field of a photograph.

But besides the graphic qualities dictated by the shutter and aperture, there is but one more feature that makes photography unique. It’s the continuous and infinite gradations of a tonal range that a photograph can reproduce. Before photography came about no other visual artistic expression was capable of producing such a smooth gradient. Painters have through all time used various techniques to mix colours to make a smooth transition between two separate tints or shades, but it was and is always based upon an illusion – not a real continuous and infinite gradation.

Photography was a first. Later with the digital era and computer aided design photography is no longer alone in being able to produce such a smooth gradient, but it’s still a characteristic feature that makes photography special, or as the renowned photographer Edward Weston once wrote: «[…] the unbroken sequence of infinitely subtle gradations from black to white [along with the recording of fine detail are the] characteristics which constitute the trademark of the photograph; they pertain to the mechanics of the process and cannot be duplicated by any work of the human hand.»

A continuous tonal gradient brings depth to the photograph. It displays the smooth surface of a sphere lit from the side. Or creates a feeling of three-dimensionality in a landscape when tones fade from dark towards light as the scenery recedes into the background.

It is light trailing over a surface that usually creates a gradient. And the quality of the gradient reveals the quality of the light. If the gradient is smooth it means the light is soft, coming from a large light source. If on the other hand the gradient is compressed and sharp it reflects the fact that the light source is harsh and small. Thus a gradient may be used to set an emotional tone in a photograph, from a gentle ambience to a more wild sensation.

A gradient is also related to form. A soft gradient depicts a smooth form while a sharp gradient depicts an edged and/or angular form. Form comes alive by the way it is lit, which again corresponds to how light emphasize the quality of the gradient. Also the angle of which the light falls on an object determines how its gradient is captured. A low angle will usually form a longer and smoother gradient while light angled 90 degrees onto the object will create a sharp gradient if at all. Thus form, gradient and light are all qualities closely connected.

Of course the tonal range of a gradient doesn’t have to stretch from full dark to the lightest of light, but may be limited to one end of the scale or another. This again will be another deliberate way to set the ambience of a picture, with darker gradients creating a more moody and gloomy atmosphere and a lighter gradient representing hope, happiness and harmony.

On a different note, I will want to warn you that I am about to close down the Picture Critique as I am leaving for an assignment in Nigeria by the end of the week. It’s only going to be a closure of this session, and I will get back with a new round some time into the new year. But if you have a picture you want to have critiqued now, you have only a couple of more days to post it before I close this session. I might not be able to critique pictures before I leave, but then I will get back to them when I return from Nigeria about a week later.