High Dynamic Range (HDR) images are very popular discussion in photographic books and magazines. It is also a very old procedure almost old as photography. Nowadays with availability of digital cameras and image editing software, this technique is very commonly used by photographers. For successful use of the procedure, a common sense is essential. Difficulty level is from very easy (dodging and burning in Photoshop) to hard (combining an image of the sky through branches on an image intended for large print photograph).
The first photographer to use this technique was Gustave Le Gray in his images shown in London in 1856. At the time negatives were more sensitive to blue light then to red and green. As a result, the sky would be rendered in white and subjects on earth in shades of grey. So he exposed one photograph for sky and the second one for subjects on the ground. When making prints two negatives were masked. One was used for sky and the other one for the ground.
Visible light, that’s what we see, can be rendered with camera with ability to capture Dynamic Range of 30 f stops. Nowadays, cameras can capture roughly 5-10 f stops in one image depending of the sophistication of a camera. As a result, a camera can capture only a window of the visible light in one single image. The intent of HDR technique is to widen this window. In simple words burned highlights and unexposed shadows in an image need to be revealed.
When to Use It
Use of HDR technique is to be avoided unless it is necessary. For example, at noon on a sunny day shadows are harsh. That means a part of rock facing the sun and part of the same rock in the shade will have different intensity of light. This difference can be several f stops. In order to photograph this subject one would need to adjust exposure for sunny side of the rock and the second exposure for the part in shade. In the office these two exposures would be combined using image editing software to create one image. The better option would be to come at the location early in the morning or late in the evening and photograph the same subject. This time only one exposure is needed because the light does not create harsh shadows.
To conclude, in some instances choosing appropriate lighting conditions gives better results than applying the HDR technique.
HDR technique is a tool available to a photographer in creating a desired image. As mentioned earlier it is to the photographer‘s common sense to decide to use it or not. Some other procedures one can use instead or in combination with HDR technique:
Chose appropriate lighting condition. Come on the location at the dusk or down when shadows are soft.
Acquire an advanced camera which wider dynamic range.
Use artificial light (flash) or reflector to lighten the detail in the shade.
Depending on your subject and type of photography, the photographer chooses the appropriate approach.
In some cases we can avoid HDR procedure by choosing appropriate lighting conditions, but in others this is the only way we can present a subject. For example, at sunset and sunrise sky gets spectrum of warm colors. In order to catch warm colored sky and the ground, it is necessary to use HDR technique. So take one shot for sky and the other for the ground and then combine them in an image editing software. The image (Figure 1) shows sunset, where I could not avoid HDR technique.
Figure 1: Zion Sunset
When subject with lot of shadows is photographed, some shadows lose detail and become plain black. The best way to render such subject is to photograph it in optimal lighting condition. Sometimes we can’t camp on location, drive late in the evening or can’t afford camera with high dynamic range, so remedy is to use HDR procedure. In Figure 2 is shown example of such situation.
Figure 2: Sands of Time
The simplest way to combine two images in photo editing software is to use eraser. Load up the image with most of the detail on the top layer. In the bottom layer load up an image adjusted for shadows or highlights, which ever you want to reveal on the top layer image. Make your top layer active and choose eraser soft brush with opacity 5-10%. Now go over area which you want revealed a few times. When you are happy with outcome flatten the image.
This is not the best way to combine images, but it will get you going in no time.
HDR procedure is a tool in the tool box of a photographer. At the end of the day is personal preference to use it or not and when to use it. The most important aspect is your imagination.
References: Alain Briot, “Mastering Landscape Photography” Beaumont NewHall, “The History of Photography” Michael Freeman, “Pro Photographer’s D-SLR Handbook”
Adobe’s ‘creative cloud only’ announcement – the news that Adobe software will be available only as cloud-based subscription service instead of as traditional software packages one owns and installs on their computers- came as a shock to most photographers who use Photoshop.
I received lots of questions about how the ‘cloud’ works and what one should do. Here are my thoughts and recommendations:
1 – Upgrade to CS6. It’s a very good upgrade and who knows it may be the last opportunity to buy Photoshop that you can keep on your computer! I have it and I’ll keep it!
2 – I have a feeling Adobe will be forced to offer an alternative to the cloud. There’s multiple reasons why, one of them being the requirement to have online access to process images in PS. What if you don’t have online access for whatever reason? No photoshop possible?
3 – What about opening photos that you created a long time ago? Impossible unless you are a cloud subscriber. This means you have to pay the monthly fee, even if you don’t need photoshop, just to open your photos? That’s not right. Of course we can convert psd files to tiffs or other format, but when your photo library features several hundred thousand images, as mine does, that’s easier said than done!
4 – Here is the ‘official information’ from Adobe:
Is the new Advanced Marketing DVD relevant outside of the USA?
1 – Introduction
I have a lot of students who live outside of the USA or overseas. Understandably if you are in this situation you want to know if the contents of the new Advanced Marketing Mastery Workshop on DVD will be usable in your country. You may also have spent a lot of money previously on marketing materials that have not worked as well as you expected them. Again, you want to know if the Advanced Marketing Mastery DVD will be worth spending your hard earned money on. These are important questions, and the answers are below:
2 – Can I use the information on the Advanced Marketing DVD to sell fine art photographs outside of the United States?
Yes, the new Advanced Marketing Mastery Workshop on DVD is totally relevant to selling fine art photographs in countries other than the United States. In fact, I have students from all over the world using my Fine Art Marketing DVD, not just in the US, and they are doing very well with the information featured in it.
My marketing approach is based on my knowledge of why people buy fine art photographs. I explain this in detail in the Advanced Marketing DVD. I have sold photographs successfully since 1997, not just in the US but all over the world, because I sold at the Grand Canyon where over half of the visitors are international tourists, and because I sell on my website where again over half of my customers are international collectors. This gave me the required experience to teach you how to sell your fine art photographs successfully regardless where you live in the world.
3 – I purchased too many Marketing Systems that did not work for me and I am careful now. Why will yours work while others did not?
There are a lot of marketing tutorials available on the Internet and elsewhere. However, to my knowledge,none of them teaches you how to sell fine art photographs. Many teach you how to sell portraits, weddings, pets, children, babies, studio and other type of commercial photographs, but none focus on fine art photographs the way I do in my Fine Art Photography Marketing DVDs
Selling fine art photographs requires a very specific approach. People do not purchase fine art photographs for home and office decor for the same reason they purchase photographs of their loved ones such as portraits, wedding, children, etc. I explain what the differences are in the Advanced Marketing DVD.
For example, how many of these marketing ‘experts’ teach you how to create limited editions? Not just put a number on a photo, but structuring an edition according to a specific marketing system, in several categories, and with a sliding price structure? To my knowledge I am the only one to teach this extremely important aspect of fine art photography.
How many teach you how to measure your level of leverage and how to use this leverage? Or, even simpler than that, how many teach you what leverage is in fine art photography? Knowing how to structure an edition according to your level of leverage is one of the most effective ways of increasing your income.
Also, how many teach you how to create a website where you will sell your photographs successfully, together with do’s and don’t, what you need to have and what you should never use?
And, what about teaching you how to handle stalls and objections from customers? Customers have more objections than ever before since the recession started. If you don’t know how to answer them, you will miss a huge number of sales!
What about teaching you how to do a pre-close, how to do a close, how to qualify customers? All this is brushed aside most of the time, if not totally ignored by the ‘gurus’ out there and when it is addressed it is not done in the context of selling fine art photographs. I teach you how to do all this in the Advanced Marketing Mastery DVD.
People have different objections when purchasing fine art photographs than when purchasing portrait and wedding photographs! In the new Advanced Marketing DVD I give you the exact objections customers have, together with the exact answers to give them, all this based on my 16 years of experience selling fine art photographs. There is hardly any situation I have not encountered and answered successfully, and on the Advanced Marketing DVD I give you all the answers so you can be successful too.
The price of the new Advanced Marketing Fine Art Photography Mastery Workshop on DVD will go up after the pre-order period is over. Shipping is free. We ship via USPS and declare a low value so you don’t have to pay import tax.
Do you want to place your order now? Here is the pre order page link:
Announcing the Advanced Marketing Mastery Workshop on DVD.
This is the first announcement for the upcoming Advanced Marketing Mastery Workshop on DVD. In 2006 I released the first Marketing Mastery Workshop on DVD. Now, 7 years later, I am getting ready to release the second one. This new tutorial is called the Advanced Marketing Mastery Workshop on DVD. I call it advanced because the contents of this new Seminar goes way beyond the contents of the first one.
This new tutorial is also up to date with today’s economy. I published the first Marketing Mastery Workshop on DVD in 2006. That’s 7 years ago and a huge amount of time in the world of marketing. A lot of things happened in those 7 years! The most significant being that we went through a dramatic recession of which we have not fully emerged yet.
In 2006 the economy was rock solid and business was rocking. If you had asked anyone back then what they thought the future had in store, they would have said ‘more of the same’. In other words, positivism ran wild back then. People were optimistic. Everyone was buying and spending freely.
The recession came as a shock and took many people down with it. Housing values crumbled. Net worth was severely diminished. To face what for many amounted to a disaster people cut down on unnecessary expenses. One such expense was art, photographic art in our situation. There is no point buying a photograph to hang over the mantle when you are foreclosing on your home. Similarly, home decor, one of the main reasons collectors purchase fine art photographs, is not on people’s radar when they lose they job, see the value of their investments plummet or face other dire financial issues.
Some fine art photographers went out of business. Some made do. Some did better than they ever did. We know why some went out of business. There is no mystery there. We can also guess how some managed to ‘make do.’ Cutting expenses, going into ‘survival’ mode and basically waiting out the storm hoping that things will improve. The real question, the one that is puzzling many people, is how and why did some fine art photographers manage to do better in such a poor economic situation. The short answer: they knew how to market their work successfully during a recession. The longer answer: the contents of the new Advanced Marketing Mastery Workshop on DVD. It’s all there and it works.
This new seminar is centered around the message that is at the center of my teaching:
The most important aspect of selling your work successfully is taking control of your own destiny instead of waiting to be discovered
The reason for this focus is that I’ve never been fond of waiting. Call me impatient if you want, that’s fine with me. Life is simply too short to wait to be discovered. Plus there’s a major problem with waiting. What if nobody comes? What if nothing happens? What if we are never discovered? To me that option is no fun at all and I am not willing to take the chance of waiting for nothing. Especially since there is a solid and efficient alternative and that is to be pro-active and take control of our destiny ourselves. Who wants to wait? Not me and I’m ready to bet not you either. Especially if you know how to make things happen now.
The contents of the new Advanced Marketing Mastery Workshop on DVD All this is nice but I am sure you want to know exactly what is in this new Seminar. Well, no problem. Here is the table of contents. There are 19 sections. Each section featuring one to ten sub-sections:
Section 1 – Introduction
Section 2 – How Fine Art Photographs are Sold
Section 3: Theory – The Fine Art Photography Business
Section 4: Theory – Understanding the Selling process
Section 5: Theory – Why people buy art
Section 6: Practice – How to start your business
Section 7: Practice – Where to sell your work
Section 8: Practice – Seeking Gallery Representation
Section 9: Practice – Selling on the web
Section 10: Practice – Communicating with customers
Section 11: Practice – Improving Sales
Section 12: Practice – Managing your career
Section 13: Practice – Creating the Lifestyle you desire
Section 14: Practice – How are you going to do this
Section 15: Practice – The 12 commandments of Marketing
Section 16: Conclusion
Section 17: Artist Stories
Section 18: Artists and Venues Analysis
Section 19: Reference files
This new seminar will be released in late Spring of this year, either may or June or earlier. At this time a pre-announcement list is open. Joining this list is simple. Simply email me at email@example.com with the words advanced Marketing Seminar DVD in the subject line. You will be immediately added to the pre-announcement list and will benefit from a seriously discounted price when the DVD is first released.
Sunrise Reflections, Bosque del Apache – How I created this photograph
1 – How this photograph was created
Each time I visit Bosque del Apache I set it as a goal to take photographs without any birds. This was the first photograph I took that morning. When I created it I believed it would be the best image for that morning and it turned out to be so.
This photograph was taken during our just completed Bosque & White Sands Workshop. The sun was not up yet. I was so convinced that this was a strong image, a ‘keeper’ as they say, that I told the workshop participants that I had created my best image for that morning and that we could leave for breakfast now. Many participants joined me in capturing this scene. Somehow I knew that this was a strong image, possibly the strongest image I was going to create that morning. How did I know? From experience taking tens of thousands of photographs over many years. In other words, because of practice.
I also don’t use a light meter on my manual camera, instead I set the f-stop and shutter speed based on my evaluation of the light level of the scene. After many years of doing so I have become quite good at it. Usually, I find the perfect exposure after 1 or 2 attempts. That morning I found it at my first attempt. In fact, the photograph above was the first exposure I took that morning. I saw it as a sign that this was a truly exceptional situation.
2 – Skill Enhancement Exercises
Practice finding out if you have a ‘keeper’, when you are working in the field, and when you first see the image on your LCD scren.
- Does doing this come naturally to you?
- Is it challenging?
- If yes, which aspect of this approach is the most challenging?
After returning to your studio, take a look back at the images you believed were ‘keepers.’
- Were you correct? Are these photograph as good as you thought they were once you convert and optimize them ?
- If you were not correct, why do you not like these images as much as you did in the field? What changed?
- If you were correct, what are the strong aspects of these images?
- What is it about them that makes them work visually?
Sunrise Reflections, Bosque del Apache
3 – About Alain Briot Alain Briot creates fine art photographs, teaches workshops and offers DVD tutorials on composition, image conversion, optimization, printing and marketing. Alain is the author of Mastering Landscape Photography. Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity and Personal Style and Marketing Fine Art Photography. All 3 books are available on as printed books Amazon.com and as eBooks on Alain’s website at this link: http://beautiful-landscape.com/Ebooks-Books-1-2-3.html
You can find more information about Alain’s work, writings and tutorials as well as subscribe to Alain’s Free Monthly Newsletter on his website at http://www.beautiful-landscape.com To subscribe simply go to http://www.beautiful-landscape.com and click on the Subscribe link at the top of the page. You will receive information on downloading the table of contents, plus over 40 free essays by Alain, immediately after subscribing. Alain welcomes your comments on this essay as well as on his other essays available. You can reach Alain directly by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fifteen Remarks on Fine Art Photography Composition
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. Albert Einstein
Moonset at Sunrize, Zabriskie Point, Death Valley, California
Introduction What are the most important aspects of composing a Fine Art Photograph? The answer to this question certainly varies from photographer to photographer because each of us places more importance on some aspects than on others. What follows is what I personally consider to be the most important aspects of Composition.
This list is excerpted from a longer list that I use for teaching during my workshops and seminars. The decision to create a shorter list, with only 15 items instead of 37, stemmed from the desire to focus on the essential aspects of composing a fine art photograph regardless of the subject we are studyphotograph or the specific project we are working on. The resulting list is free from a particular teaching emphasis and represents what I look for in a Fine Art Photograph.
1 – Composition is the strongest way of seeing This is Edward Weston’s definition of composition
It is still my favorite definition of composition
2 – Composition is not just the placement of objects in the frame Composition also involves using color, contrast and light
Composition includes post processing in the raw converter and in Photoshop
3 – The goal of composition is to express your vision and your emotional response to the scene The goal of Fine Art Composition is not to create a documentary representation of the scene
Nor is it to create a photograph that is only technically perfect
The goal is to create an image that is superior, both expressively and technically
An image that demonstrate both mastery of vision and technical virtuosity
4 – What the camera captures is objective. What the artist’s sees and feels are subjective Take stock of your emotional response to the scene in front of you
Record those emotions in writing or in audio
Use light, color, contrast, composition and cropping to reproduce these emotions visually
Work on this both in the field and in the studio
5 – Think first about light A photograph is only as good as the light you use
The subject is less important than the light that illuminates this subject
The best subject in bad light does not make for a good photograph
6 – Use foreground-background relationships Find a great foreground and place it in front of a great background
Make sure your foreground is large enough to play an important role in the composition
7 – Contrast opposites elements Human beings think and see in terms of opposites
Therefore this is something everyone can relate to
Examples of opposite elements include:
- Static / moving
- Young / old
- Large / small
- Organic / man made
Cottonwood Trees in Fall Colors, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
8 – Composing a fine art photograph is not about redoing what someone else has done before If tempted to redo an image you have seen, just buy the postcard, the book or the poster
You cannot be someone else, therefore you cannot take the same photographs as someone else
You will waste time trying to do so
Instead, start to create your own images right away
9 – Being inspired and redoing someone else’s work are two different things You can certainly be inspired by the work of other photographers
We have all been inspired by the work of other artists and photographers
This is an inherent aspect of the artistic process
10 – No amount of technology can make up for a lack of inspiration Cameras and other gears are technical
Inspiration is artistic
The two exist on different planes
Achieving a Personal style in Fine Art means working as an artist not just as a technician
11 – People, not cameras, compose photographs Certainly, a camera is a necessity
However, your camera cannot compose a photograph anymore than your car can drive itself
You are the one who composes your photographs, not your camera
12 – “Correct” is whatever works when the goal is to create fine art There is no such thing as “the right thing” in art
“What is Art ?” is a question to which there are many answers
We therefore have to answer this question for ourselves
We are also bound to disagree with others because fine art is a polarized activity.
13 – Straight fine art prints are a myth All fine art prints are a modification of the image recorded by the camera.
The composition of the image you started in the field is continued in the studio.
This is done through image optimization because colors, contrast, borders, image format, etc. are all part of composition.
14 – The “right” color balance is the strongest way of seeing color There is no such thing as the “right” color balance in Fine Art
This is because color is one of the ways you express your emotional response to the scene
For this reason, the “right” color balance for a specific image will differ from one photographer to the next
15 – The finest compositions are those you never saw until you created them Recreating a composition you saw before is easy
Creating a brand new composition, one you have never seen before, is difficult
This is because doing so requires transforming the natural chaos into an organized image
It involves creating order out of chaos, as Elliott Porter said.
About Alain Briot Alain Briot creates fine art photographs, teaches workshops and offers DVD tutorials on composition, raw conversion, optimization, printing, marketing photographs and more. Alain is also the author of Mastering Landscape Photography and Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity and Personal Style. All 3 books are available from Alain’s website as well as from Amazon and other bookstores.
You can find more information about Alain’s work, writings and tutorials as well as subscribe to Alain’s Free Monthly Newsletter on his website at http://www.beautiful-landscape.com. You will receive over 40 essays in PDF format, including chapters from Alain’s books, when you subscribe. You can also email your comments or questions to Alain at email@example.com
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Belwo are the most recent updates made available for the Personal Style Master Class. These updates are available in the Master Class Updates area on my site. The link to the updates area was emailed to you when you placed your order.
Collecting gear or completing projects?
There is a sort of obsession in photography and that is the desire to collect camera gear – cameras and lenses- beyond any reasonable quantity. This is particularly interesting today with digital because much of what can be done with various lenses can be done in Photoshop through image processing. For example, using PhotoshopPhotomerge allows you to take multiple captures to widen the field of view without having to carry extreme wide angle lenses. Focus stacking replaces tilt shift lenses by allowing you to create photographs that are in focus from foreground to background with any lens. And distort, warp and perspective functions allow you to mimic the movements of a 4×5 view camera without having to carry cumbersome equipment in the field.
All this saves you from buying and carrying more gear. Of course manufacturers don’t want to hear about that since they will sell fewer lenses and cameras if the majority of photographers suddenly said ‘thanks but no thanks because I can do all this in Photoshop.’ Certainly, both photographers and manufacturers are watching for their best interests, which makes sense.
For me the issue is personal focus. Over the years I noticed that the more I focus on getting new lenses and cameras, the less I improve my photography. My best photographs were all created when I used the equipment I had at the time while focusing on projects instead of focusing on acquiring more gear. To name but a few projects I successfully completed, in Paris I worked on several year-long street photography projects using a Leica CL and one lens, the standard 40mm that came with the camera. In 1983 I completed a six month project working with an Arca Swiss 4×5 and two lenses, a 90mm and a 210mm Rodenstock. More recently I have been working on several landscape photography projects using a Phase One digital back and 4 lenses mounted on a Hasselblad V.
Each time, while working on these projects, I did not purchase any gear . This is because while I can do many things I cannot do everything at the same time effectively. When it comes to photography I can either focus on acquiring equipment or focus on using this equipment to complete projects that are important to me. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with either approach. I know because I have done both. It is simply a matter of knowing what the goal is and of focusing on reaching this goal. For me when the goal is to create effective photographs I need to leave the equipment acquiring process alone for a while.
Moonset at Sunrise, Zabriskie Point, Death Valley, California Five P45 captures collaged using PhotoshopPhotomerge
I love gear
Don’t get me wrong. I love camera gear just as much as you do. I also love good gear, which often turns out to be expensive gear. To introduce but one piece of evidence, I used to subscribe to Shutterbug Magazine to have access to the multitude of ads and gear reviews featured in it. I wouldn’t read any of the essays unless they were about gear, which most of them were, and that made Shutterbug a worthwhile investment at that time. There was just one caveat: the heydays of my Shutterbug subscription were also the least productive days of my photographic career.
My purpose here is not to put down the magazine. It achieved its goal which was to focus on gear. My purpose is to put down my own shortcomings. While my goal was to create exciting photographs I instead spent my time lusting about gear.
I also had a moment of illumination, an epiphany if you will, after moving to the house where we currently live. The house is very large and for the first time I was able to put all my camera, lenses, tripods and other ‘stuff’ in one place. I selected a two-doors closet, 5 shelves high and about 6 feet wide, and by the time I was done I had filled all the shelves. It was then that I realized I had gone too far with gear acquisition. Until then the gear was spread out throughout the whole house and I couldn’t tell how much I really had. Now that I could see it all at once I realized it was time to stop.
But I got help
The good news is I got help. I met the right people who pointed to the futility of my endeavor and reminded me that using gear was more important than owning gear. I also did not have enough money to purchase the gear I wanted so eventually reality set in. Making good use of my time meant using the gear I had instead of lusting after gear I could not afford.
And I learned
Eventually I let go of my gear obsession and started photographing seriously again. What could have been a life-long rut ended up being an interlude that taught me an important lesson: using the gear you have is more important than lusting after gear you do not have. I realized that I am not a collector of gear. I am a user of gear. I need gear to complete projects, not to impress others. I want to impress myself with my photographs, not impress others with my gear.
I also learned that this lesson applies to software as well. While testing all HDR apps, all stitching apps, or all sharpening apps (to name but a few) may have some value, doing so ad infinitum is similar to collecting all the lenses from a specific manufacturer. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with doing so, and while it will extend your knowledge of software packages, it will not foster your creativity.
Understanding this made me realize that systematically testing everything that is available is unnecessary for me. One example is stitching software. At this time nearly 75% of my images are created through stitching, or collaging as I prefer to sall it. Yet, the only stitching app I have ever used is Photoshop Photomerge. Why? Because it does everything I need and it does it well. I could not improve on the results, so why test other software? At best I will find out that they do just as well. At worst I may find out that they don’t work as well, or are more difficult to use, or are flawed in some other way.
I don’t work with manufacturers
I have an ace up my sleeve when it comes to selecting which gear and software I use and that is I don’t work with any photography gear or software manufacturer. This means that I don’t have to review their gear or software, I don’t get sponsorship money from them, I don’t have to feature advertising on my site or anywhere else, and I don’t get free gear or software. Everything I use I paid for by myself and the reason why I use specific gear is because I like it not because I have a personal relationship with a company. Certainly, I have friends in the photographic industry. This is inevitable when you have been a professional for decades. However, these friendships are not influencing my decisions. I just like freedom. This is why I do this. I don’t like having someone telling me what gear or software to use. And I prefer to make money selling prints rather than getting money from sponsors.
Photographing what matters, not everything we see
The key element here is the necessity to focus on a project instead of taking photographs of ‘everything that catches our eyes’ which is what we naturally do if our energy is not channelled in a specific direction. This specific direction is working on a project that we design, plan and complete within a specific time frame.
When we focus on a project we let go of the obsession to purchase gear because our attention is focused on completing the project instead of looking for more gear. Working on a project is rewarding because the outcome of a project is a body of work that is coherent, focused and ready to be shown to others without the need to explain what it is about. If the project is done well, which it will be if you follow my teaching, then it is self explanatory. It stands as testimony to our vision, our skills and our passion for photography. It is something we can leave behind. It becomes part of our legacy. It stands as a body of work that we are proud of.
A project is also something that non-photographers can relate to. Only other photographers know the difference between an f 2.0 and a f 2.8 lens, or between a P45 and an IQ180, or between a Nikon 800 and 800e. Non-photographers may know what an f-stop is but won’t see the point of getting a lens with a wider opening. And I can guarantee you that none will know what a P45 is, let alone what the difference between P45 and IQ180, or between a Nikon 800 and 800e might be. It’s all Greek to them and while they may act as if they can relate to it, they do so only because they are afraid of revealing their lack of knowledge. Fact is, the only thing they can truly relate to are your photographs, because photographs have an emotional appeal and can therefore be enjoyed by anyone, with or without specialized technical knowledge.
Vision In the end what we are talking about here is vision. Vision is expressed through projects and therefore the completion of a project is what we are after. If this rings true with you you need to take a look at my Personal Style Master Class Workshop on DVD. This tutorial is equivalent to a college course on the subject of expressing your vision and completing a project. A 20 pages eBook is available free at this link together with a detailed description of the course:
Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world only, our own, we see that world multiply itself and we have at our disposal as many worlds as there are original artists. Marcel Proust
1 – Introduction I recently spent time reading Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, his most famous work, which was written in France at the beginning of the 20th century.
To say that Proust is difficult to read is an understatement. A more accurate statement is that Proust is difficult to read. So much so that one of his readers, frustrated by the beginning of his book in which the first 17 pages are used to explain why he cannot sleep, wrote to him in despair asking to ‘please tell me what your book is about.’ Monthy Python made a sketch in which contest participants were asked to summarize Proust’s In Search of Lost Time in 30 seconds. No one succeeded in doing it so the prize was given to the participant with the largest breasts. This sketch points to the absurdidy that many assotiate with Proust’s work.
Reading Proust can certainly be challenging. Yet, it can be rewarding as well. More to the point in regards to photography, reading Proust can help us create better photographs. I know this probably sounds like an overstatement however it is not. Let me explain.
The central concept in Proust’s work is the belief that while life goes on we are unable to bring back the true nature of past experiences intentionally. To better explain this inadequacy Proust separates memory in two categories: first, intentional memory which refers to that aspect of our memories that we access intentionally. Second, unintentional memory which refers to that aspect of our memories that we cannot access intentionally. Unintentional memories are emotional memories and we can only access indirectly. For Proust there are only two ways to access unintentional memories: through ‘chance’ events that are out of our control and occur accidentally and through art because art provides us with visions of the world that we could not otherwise access because they are those of artists and not ours.
For Proust intentional memories are simply ineffective at bringing back the true nature of an experience. This is because the memories we are able to recall intentionally are essentially factual. The aspects of life that we remember intentionally consist of places, events, names and other facts. While those may be useful to describe a past event, they are ineffective at bringing back the true nature of that event. This is because only emotional memories can allow us to recall a past event in such a way that we can feel as if were living this event again. The problem is that emotional memories are stored in our unconscious and can only be recalled by accidental events or by works of art.
Why art? Because Proust believed that art lives on forever and that its purpose is to bring an emotional response to the viewer. Because of this emotional quality, art can bring back past experiences through unintentional memories and thereby allow us to relive past experiences to an extent equal, if not superior, to the original experience.
2 – Art as mnemonic device It can therefore be said that art, for Proust, is a mnemonic device, a place where memories are stored and preserved. Proust believed that trying to recall memories intentionally is futile and pointless and that memories can only be recalled two ways: first, accidentally through what he called ‘unintentional’ memories brought back by accidental events out of our control. Second through art, because art is showing us the world as seen by another person, and as such is an unexpected, and unintentional, window onto the world as seen by that other person. Art therefore is a reliable key to unlocking memories because unlike accidents, art is available all the time. As evidence of the important art played in Proust’s life, over 100 works of art are listed in his oeuvre In Search of Lost time.
3 – Escape through art
It is only through art that we can escape from ourselves and know how another person sees a universe
which is not the same as our own and whose landscapes would otherwise
have remained as unknown as any there may be on the moon. Marcel Proust
As Proust says in the above quote, It is only through art that we can escape. I believe that ‘escape’ for Proust did not mean avoidance of ourselves. Instead, it meant going beyond the limitations of our intentional memory. Proust was concerned, if not obsessed, with lost time, hence the title of his book: In Search of Lost time. Proust believed that we cannot intentionally recollect memories because memories are not factual but, instead, emotional. Therefore, the only way for Proust to recollect memories is through an emotional experience. This experience cannot be created; it has to be accidental. Art provides such an accidental event because art is a window onto another person’s view of the world, another person’s experience and memories. As such art allows us to ‘escape’ the limitations of our own memories by providing an emotional ‘trigger’ that enables us to bring back what we forgot.
4- Why read Proust in the context of art? Reading Proust while involved in artistic activities is helpful because Proust lived at the same time as the Impressionists. The world that Proust describes in his novel is therefore the world that the Impressionists painted. There is, in Proust’s writing, the essence of Impressionism and of other art movements. There is the account of the life they lived and of the world they painted. Therefore, reading Proust can, indirectly, help us understand Impressionism better.
Proust also lived at the time when Impressionism made room for Cubism, Surrealism, Dadaism, Fauvism and other art movements. Proust socialized with the artists that were at the origin of these movements, artists such as Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Dali and many other. Here too reading Proust can help us better understand these movements as well as the motivation of the artists who created them.
While the paintings created by the artists working in these different movements show us their visual representation of their world, Proust’s text gives us an intellectual representation of this world through the characters that fill the pages and through the descriptions and remarks that Proust makes about them.
5 – Proust and Photography
Pleasures are like photographs: those taken in the beloved’s presence no more than negatives, to be developed later, once you are at home, having regained the use of that interior darkroom, access to which is ‘condemned’ as long as you are seeing other people. Marcel Proust
A l’Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleur (Within a Budding Grove)
Proust is a latent image. His unconscious memories are waiting to be developed. This was done by writing his book. Because his book, when we reach the last page, calls for a second reading, it can be said, to paraphrase Ansel Adams, that the book is the score and our reading of the book is the performance. While the text of the book stays the same, each new reading produces a slightly different understanding, or performance if you will.
Similarly, we are latent images ourselves when it comes to memory because we all have unconscious memories waiting to be developed. These memories can be ‘developed’ or made ‘visible’ accidentally through ‘happy events or accidents’ that occur unwillingly. Or, they can be made ‘visible’ as well with a certain level of control by developing a passion for the arts. While through our own experience we can only have one vision of the world -ours- through art we can have as many visions as there are artists, each work of art presenting either the vision of a different artist or a slightly different version of the vision of a specific artist.
Art therefore provides a path to our unconscious memory by presenting us with emotions, expressed in a variety of medium, be it visual, auditory, olfactory or other. While we may have experienced some of the emotions that art presents us with, we would have been unable to recall these experiences consciously. This is because our conscious memory is logical and therefore only able to recall places, names, events and other factual information. However, the emotions attached to these facts and events are stored in our unconscious memory. Unfortunately, we do not have access to it through intentional recollection and trying to bring back these memories intentionally is both futile and frustrating. Only through accidental events and through the admiration of art can these memories be brought back. At such times our logical mind gives way to an emotional response and it is through this emotional response that unintentional memories are recalled. It is in that sense that we are latent images ourselves, or latent memories if you prefer, and it is through this process that these latent memories are ‘developed’ and made accessible, or visible, to us again.
6 – The challenges Proust offers to the reader
A – The book is composed of seven books In Search of Lost Time is not the title of the book but the title of the oeuvre. This oeuvre is divided in 7 volumes, each with a unique title, as follows:
1 – Du cote de chez Swann (Swann’s Way)
2 – A l’Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleur (Within a Budding Grove)
3 – Du Cote de Guermantes (Guermante’s Way)
4 – Sodome et Gomorrhe (Sodom and Gomorrah)
5 – La Prisoniere (The Prisoner)
6 – La Fugitive (The Fugitive)
7 – Le Temps Retrouve (Time Regained)
B – The last book ends where the first book begins. At the end of book seven (Time Regained) the writer understands his life’s purpose and decides to write the seven books we just read. This means we have to start all over again, at page one of book one and read all seven volumes a second time, this time with the awareness of the writer’s goal.
C – The number of characters is very large. The number of characters featured in the book is so large that it is difficult to remember them all and to make sense of all the relationships among them.
D – Locations and characters are organized spatially The characters are organized in a spatial fashion, essentially around how Proust visits them. When he goes out of his Aunt’s house in Combray, if he goes through the gate on the right side of the property he goes to Swann’s house because the right side gate leads to the side of Swann’s house. To go through the other gate would mean making a huge detour and therefore being impractical and senseless. This fact gives us the title of book 1: Swann’s Way, a literal translation of the original French title.
The same approach is used for the second book, Guermante’s Way. Here Proust leaves the house at Combray through the left side which provides the most direct path to Guermantes’ house.
Another example of spatial organization is during Proust’s recovery when he goes to the ‘Champs Elysees’ which in the book means the gardens located at the bottom of the Champs Elysees, just before the Champs de Mars, and not the avenue itself contrary to what the term means today. Here the location is where Proust meets with his nurse and therefore the place comes to represent the person. However, the name of this person also represents the place because the name of the person brings back memories of the events that took place there. People and places are thus another form of latent image, because through their names one can recall memories of things past.
E – Proust writing style is extensive Another challenge is Proust’s writing style, which is extensive, sometimes having a single sentence run for an entire page or longer. Part of the reason for this style is Proust’s dislike for common or ‘dead’ metaphors, metaphors that have been overused and have lost their ability to surprise us and to create an emotional response when we hear them. It is said that Proust would go into a rage, one of the few instances in which he would lose his composure, when presented with dead metaphors, and that he would complain about the speaker’s or writer’s lack of imagination and about the worthlessness of their prose, or speech, as the case might be. Proust’s solution was to create his own original metaphors. The problem is that he does so by constructing extremely long and complex sentences, which, as I mentioned, occasionally run for a page or more.
But there is another purpose, and outcome, for Proust’s writing style and that is to cause us to become immersed in the text, to forget what the exact context is, and to generate the type of dream-like state that is most propitious to recalling unconscious memories. I therefore believe that his style helps achieve the very goal that his book sets to achieve, and that the difficulty of reading the text is, metaphorically representative of the difficulty of recalling emotional memories.
Just like we cannot recall such memories intentionally, neither can we benefit and enjoy Proust’s prose intentionally, by applying ourselves and being ‘studious’ readers. Doing so is futile, no amount of ‘studiousness’ can allow us to read Proust without losing track of what we are reading at some point. Instead, a better way to read Proust is by to let our mind wander as we read. A better way is to let go of our concerns for lengthiness, to put aside our resentment for his overly complex prose, and to let the text flow in us, as if individual words were events leading collectively to the recollection of forgotten memories. It is then, in my opinion, that we can truly appreciate his work and benefit from his message.
Proust’s prose works well for me when read that way. I often read Proust as if it was disconnected from the story, enjoying each word and each sentence for the memories and the emotions it brings back to me. I do not try to understand the story, or to follow the ‘plot’, if plot there is, because for me those are secondary in importance. Instead, I approach the text as poetry, reading single lines as if they were precious in and out of themselves. Rather than try to understand the story told by Proust, if story there is, Proust’s writing creates my own story, the story of memories lost and found again through his prose.
7 – Conclusion Proust understood that all human experiences are exposed to the destructive effects of time. As a result, over time the memories associated with past experiences fade away until they are totally forgotten. Furthermore, attempts to bring back these memories are futile and bound to be unsuccessful.
However, and this is the discovery that Proust brings us in his novel, these memories are stored in our subconscious. While they are not available to us through intentional efforts, they can be recalled through the enjoyment of a work of art. For Proust art is therefore a “translation” of our worldly experiences. Through art these experiences are transformed into ‘something’ — be it a painting, a musical piece, or other – that can be accessed by anyone if we take the time to appreciate works of art.
As artists Proust’s discovery is highly valuable to us because it brings a new importance to the creation of a work of art. Knowing what Proust discovered gives a new purpose to art. Art is not just about aesthetics, or about sharing intellectual ideas, or about expressing artistic visions. Art is also about providing a vehicle to help bring back forgotten memories, memories released through the emotional experience of appreciating a work of art.
Proust therefore brings us good news and bad news. The bad news is that time is our enemy because it causes us to forget our experiences. The good news is that time can be defeated because these memories are stored in our subconscious and we can recall them, either accidentally or through the contemplation of art. Dipping a madeleine into a cup of tea can bring back memories associated with a past event. Similarly, admiring a work of art can give us a glimpse into how another person perception of the world and, in turn, surprise us by bringing back memories we thought were long gone.
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