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Photography: A subtractive art

July 10, 2016  •  2 Comments

A moonlit landscapeA moonlit landscapeThis photo was taken two days before a full moon night at Granite Basin, Kings Canyon National Park.

The brightly lit moon illuminated the landscape very well. The clear skies & non existent wind allowed me to stop down and go slow on the shutter to capture a 9-point moonstar, without blurring the trees in foreground. It also helped to keep any ripples in the water surface at bay, allowing a crisp reflection of the trees and the moonstar.

I composed the frame so as to position the moon at the apex of the tallest tree in the frame. Also, the ultra wide lens allowed me to accommodate the reflection of the entire tree along with the moon at its apex.

14mm, 20 secs at f11 & ISO 100.

Photographic art is often compared to painting. Technical comparisons often draw parallels on the over-abused rules of composition, perspective and scale. Pictorialist photography is even more similar to painting, not only in technical terms, but also in the aspects of look and feel. Both the mediums are created on a 2-dimensional plane that strives to create an illusion of depth to draw in the viewers eye. While the end result of both photography and painting may be similar, the process of creating these two art forms are very dissimilar. Photography is a subtractive art as opposed to painting, which is an additive art.

A subtractive artwork, such as photography, is created by removing of unwanted elements and focusing on the subject matter and supporting elements. All the distractions are removed or subdued, which in turn helps to accentuate the subject matter in focus. In this respect we can compare photography to sculpting. As Michelangelo said, there is a sculpture waiting to be revealed in every piece of rock. It's just a matter or removing the superfluous matter. Similarly, there is a photograph in every scene we look at, we just have to remove the unwanted elements and focus on the subject.

Learning to look at a complex scene and distill its essence in as few elements as possible is a crucial aspect of creating photographic art. There is no magic number of elements, but I would like to ball park around number three. As we commonly say, once is an aberration, twice is a coincidence and thrice is a pattern. And photography is all about learning to see and finding patterns in a complex scene. Once you master the art of seeing, then portraying what you see (your vision) is just a matter of highlighting the subject matter using the oft reported tools and techniques that we find in photography literature - composition, proportions & scale, depth of field, perspective, contrasts, blur, etc. 

In this respect, a photograph is first seen in our minds eye (Vision) and then created. And it is indeed fascinating to look at it this way: seeing first, creating later.


Mowgli and Panda
Thanks Ravi.
Ravi Vaidyanathan(non-registered)
Nice way to put it sir......
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