So says Lao Tzi. Tao Te Ching Chapter 23
Photos tell a story. One frame at time. We don’t get the backstory. We might never grasp the ongoing drama. There is no character development in a single photo.
Photographers and their photos are sold into a slavey of having to make the point of the subject, decisively and distinctly.
Henri-Cartier Bresson (HCB) spoke and taught the concept of “The Decisive Moment”. And thousand of acres of trees have been cut down to turn into paper, countless websites have come and gone explaining the author’s concept of HCB’s small statement. So much so that photographers have pondered when is the right time to press the shutter, what should and shouldn’t be included, and how does that all support the vision I had of the scene at that moment.
Fred Archer and Ansel Adams, created “Pre-visualization” (sic) and although it applied to their ‘Zone System”, it too has gone into the photo-psyche as a necessary tool to learn to make good photos.
Many current photographs, the ones made on handfones bound for Instagram (so 2020ish), or TikTok, are made with no knowledge of the Decisive Moment or Pre-visualisation, the audience doesn’t care.
The Zone System was at its base, and this is not the blog to explore all that in some detail, was to understand or predict in the final print how dark the dark areas would be, how light the light areas and where the mid-tones might fall. Not a panacea for “Will I or will I not press the shutter.” Nor the countless articles and lectures given to explain it
The single image offers us some visual challenges. One way to imply the story for our viewers is contrast.
Oh yes, I’ve got one of those sliders in my Photoshop program, push it one way and it all goes murky grey, push the other and it washes out the whites and clogs up the blacks.
Contrast is a bit more than just a slider solution.
Dark tones create a sombre mood. Light tones give us bright excitement, and the mid-tones carry the bulk of the detail and content.
With colour, we can also contrast one colour against another. Blue on yellow perhaps. Those who’ve seen Spielberg’s Schindler’s List will know the significance of a red coat.
A different type of contrast is ideas, or points of difference. Large round shape against small rectangular. Wet against dry. Moving verses stationary. It provides visual pull that lets the viewer explore the frame. Scale or juxtaposition are part of the visual contrast.
Perhaps dead trees in a wilderness with some soft green shoots poking through the parched ground?
I’d seen this Black-shouldered Kite approaching, and as it flew by the dark trees, its light shape and form became more than just the bird in flight. Once back in the digital space on the computer I loaded up the trusty “Nik Silver FX Pro” and just like in the old days of choosing a filter to modify a colour tone, I worked the darkness back into the trees and also picked out the lighter area with a different filter. Time to add a little extra density and contrast by matching a film type and adding a little grain to give some texture.