There is just something about some photographs that make them stand out from all the rest. They just say look at me! It seems that the best photographers are both storytellers and technicians. Not only can they get the details right; the focus, framing, and exposures, but they also capture the moment in such a way that it draws the viewers in to the frame.
In The Elements Of Photography: Understanding And Creating Sophisticated Images, Angela Faris Belt, a fine art photographer and instructor for over 15 years, explores the four critical features that bring the viewer into a great image. The Elements Of Photography is a book that contains over 300 full color images, and contains portfolios that feature the works of over 40 artists who provide inspiration for you to build on. The book is 384 pages, and contains four chapters.
Chapter 1, "Framing and Borders," looks at three fundamental components – subject, form, and content, and how they affect the image. The fact is that every work of art is composed of these three things. Subject is what the image is about and content is the subject matter; those are the things that are present in the image. And form is how the subject and the content are unified and presented in the image. It is the interrelationship between the three that actually creates the image.
In this chapter you will learn how to frame the image. This is important because it affects the visual quality and meaning of your image. By organizing the frame, you control the spatial relationships in the image, and thus control what the person who is viewing the image sees. By choosing the best frame, cropping it to your best advantage, defining the borders and the transitional space between the subject and its surroundings, you control the flow of the image. There is even a section devoted to working with multiple frames within an image that is quite interesting.
Chapter 2, "Focus: Apertures, Lenses, and Depth of Field," describes the second element of the image. When you see a painting that depicts a scene that looks real, it is called photorealistic, the way a camera would see it. When you see a photo that depicts a scene that you would see it is called realistic. This is because of our binocular vision as compared to the flat look of a photo.
It is through the aperture and depth of field that you can come close to representing a realistic photo. Here you will look at what an aperture is, what depth of field is, and how they affect the visual quality and focus of the lens that you are using.
Chapter 3, "Shutter Speeds: Time and Motion," examines the effect of manipulating time. Either by stopping motion or blurring motion you can create interesting images that are ripe with visual potential. By controlling shutter speed you gain the ability to control time.
In essence you control the delineation of time in a photograph. Here you will learn of the five factors that determine the degree of frozen time in a photo. You will see how to affect time from both the camera as well as in the digital darkroom. You will even see some traditional darkroom techniques for using or creating blurred time.
Chapter 4, "Materials and Processes: The Aggregate Image," is about the physical object. When you take a photo, it is about the object that you take the image of. It is about reproducing something from real life and representing it within an image.
In this chapter you will learn about the physical materials and processes that comprise the object that contributes significantly to the meaning of the image. In this section you will see what processes and materials you will need to use to control the visual outcomes. It is through these structures that will take you to the next level.
The Elements Of Photography, for me, really works on multiple levels. First is the writing which takes you along the topic and examines it in detail. The explanations are clear and to the point. For some technical points there is a background portion that defines without wasting time.
Next there are chapter exercises that show you how to further explore the topics contained in the chapter. Subtly, by participating in these exercises, the author is showing you how to build portfolios of types of images as well as getting you to explore and experiment with different concepts.
Finally there are the portfolio pages. These are intended to inspire creative thinking and critical debate about the content and subject of the topic at hand. There is an artist statement about the topic, and also (most times) a process statement that examines the technical aspect of how the artist accomplished the look and feel of the photos.
The Elements Of Photography is simply a fabulous book on creating photographic images. If it were larger, it would work as a coffee table-style book, but as it is, it is an excellent visual exploration of photography. I very highly recommend this book.