Bert P. Krages II
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1. The Importance of Visual Skills
The first chapter illustrates the common kinds of faults with perception and explains the three-step approach used in the book for learning visual skills. The approach consists of: (1) understanding how visual cognition affects perception and composition, (2) providing examples of images that show how the concepts can be executed, and (3) performing well-defined exercises that increase cognitive abilities. To lay the foundation for understanding the psychobiology of perception and how it relates to imaging, the first part of the chapter explains why many photographers have trouble in translating what they see into images. The second part of the chapter discusses the importance of composition in photographs and shows how it enables photographers to express themselves visually. The third part of the chapter discusses the value of viewing the work of prominent photographers and other visual artists with an eye toward learning how to assess what makes images work.
2. The Camera as Tool
The second chapter lays the foundation for using photographic equipment by setting the camera in the context of an artistic tool. A good first step toward increasing one’s skill at photography is to master the basic aspects of operating a camera. This chapter explains how to learn to hold a camera still during an exposure and describes some techniques and exercises for reducing camera movement. It also describes techniques for faster and more accurate focusing and explains how to overcome the obstacles that underdeveloped perceptual skills pose for many photographers with respect to using viewfinders to compose images.
3. Doing the Exercises
The crux of the book is that perceptual skills can be developed by working through a series of exercises to develop both static and dynamic perceptual skills. This chapter explains the general structure of the exercises and demonstrates how knowledge of individual subject matter and experience with multiple genres can help improve perceptual skills. The exercises in the next three chapters open with a brief discussion of the genre and associated techniques. After discussing the genre, the exercises describe what to photograph and provide guidelines for performing the exercise.
Points are the simplest visual elements and therefore make a useful starting point for exercises that enhance visual awareness. Although the geometric point is invisible, the book broadly defines a point for the purposes of photographic composition as any object that occupies a small fraction of the area of an image, generally less than 1 percent. Most of the exercises in this chapter involve incorporating single and multiple points in ways that require the photographer to explore and apply perceptual concepts to specific situations. One benefit of doing exercises involving points is that they teach photographers to be aware of small elements. Points can also be visualized in ways that aid in photographing difficult subjects such as sports photography.
Understanding how lines add and detract from compositions is a critical skill for photographers. While lines are subject to the same principles of perception as points, they can play different roles in composition and provide another useful means to improve perception. For example, lines have a positive tendency to direct the eye to certain parts of an image and can be used to emphasize subjects. They can also be used as an aid to make images of difficult dynamic situations. The failure to perceive lines can detract from images. The exercises in this chapter are designed to improve the ability to perceive and compose images by increasing the awareness of lines.
Shapes are the dominant elements in most images so knowing how to photograph them well is important. The exercises in this chapter involve the fundamental elements of photographing shapes including the perception of shadows and the negative spaces that surround objects. The exercises also promote the awareness of tonality because of its importance to how three-dimensional objects translate when recorded onto two dimensional media.
6. Thinking Like an Artist
This chapter discusses how to think artistically when making images with a camera. This ability is important irrespective of aspirations since all photographers need to master the concept that what goes into an image must first go through their heads. The chapter begins by discussing the general role of art in society and the contributions to art made by photography. Particular emphasis is given to the strengths of photography as an artistic medium. The chapter also discusses the general benefits of exploring other art media to gain insight into the essence of photography as a means of making images. Exploring other visual media such as drawing, even at a rudimentary level, will show that photography at its core is no different than other conventional means of visual expression. Following the discussion on the relationship of photography to other visual media, the chapter provides guidance on how to evaluate one’s work more objectively by asking specific questions such as why did an image work or fail, how the image might have been improved, and whether visual elements were missed or should have been added.
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