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P H O T O   A P P R E C I A T I O N


LEARN HOW.... To capture a great photo (Improve your skill and photo appreciation)


Study your instruction manual and run through the functions on your digital camera until it becomes second nature. Spend the next 24/7 with your camera.


The first thing to understand is that planning and taking a photograph is only part of the process. To become a fully fledged photographer you will also need to get into the darkroom and faithfully reproduce your recollection of the scene i.e.. Print the image yourself as you visualise and remember it.


To fully understand the importance of the darkroom, in the photographic process, do some research on Ansel Adams 1902 to 1984. Ansel was possibly the greatest landscape photographers of last century. His dedication to the darkroom and developing innovative darkroom techniques enabled him to produce his famous images. What he can teach you will also apply to digital photography. Study Ansel Adams and the zone system.


Ansel Adams missed the digital age but, if he were here today, he would have embraced digital photography and the critical importance of the digital darkroom would have been just as apparent as the importance of his conventional wet darkroom. He would have been an expert in the darkroom aspects of Photoshop and his images would have been just as magnificent and just as famous.


So that's the first secret - Digital camera requires digital darkroom. And manage your print production the same as you would in a retro wet darkroom. Test print and refine the image in terms of cropping, colour cast, density, contrast, highlight and shadow detail then test print again and refine again. Until you have it perfect in your eyes. And remember, it's not how an image looks on your computer screen. It's how it prints up for framing and display that counts.


Get stuck into Photoshop in terms of the above and you will also need to learn about masking the same as you would dodge and burn an image if using a darkroom enlarger. Check out photo retouching software like Photoshop and check tutorials on the web.


One of the challenges for a landscape photographer is that you need to work outside generally accepted photographic protocol. In that there is no "Key Subject" to focus on. The landscape within itself, is the total subject. The object then, is to invite a viewer into your photograph, keep them there, and guide them through the entire scene. See (4), (5), (6) & (7) below.


For a photo to work, consideration needs to be given to many things including the basics of balance and composition. An artist, on canvas, can move things around for best advantage. A landscape photographer is restricted, so the play of light and shadow are critical. Choose a location then do some preliminary shots and sketches to work out the best composition. "Composition should be what is visually appealing to you and this becomes part of your individual style".... Have a look at the scene, in different lighting conditions, then choose your moment.


There are 12 things I look for when taking or rating a photograph, outlined here, with "Barrenjoey Dreamtime" as the reference image: 


Barrenjoey Dreamtime

(1) - The Music:
The Music is the physical aspects of your photograph. The subject matter, the composition, the balance and the component parts. A faithful rendition of a landscape will present it's own colour harmony and tonal balance.


(2) - The Poetry:
The Poetry is the feeling or emotion that your image invokes in the viewer. Storm clouds promote a feeling of foreboding and the reverse applies with a windless lake, promoting a feeling of softness and tranquility. Both feelings are offered equally in the image above. So "Barrenjoey Dreamtime" offers mixed emotions.
(3) - Notan:
Before I take a photograph, I do a light study, over an extended period, and choose the best time to achieve a balance between light and dark - "The Notan". To check Notan convert your image to black and white and then dial up the contrast. The area of black should approximate or equal the area of white. Images with a good Notan are more visually appealing and one step closer to being great. 
"Invite a viewer into your photograph, keep them there, and guide them through the entire scene"


(4) - Entry Point:
Your eyes will take the easiest path into a photograph. The same starting point as if you took your first physical step into the scene. An open, uncluttered area invites the viewer into your photograph like the rock ledge above, made more inviting by the flash of white water.


(5) -  Frames:
Like a picture frame, are required to stop the viewer from escaping the image as seen above with the shrubs and lighthouse on the right pushing you back into the image.
(6) - Visual Guides:
Can be lines for your eye to run along or internal pointers. In the image above this would be down the beach line to the far headland then along the horizon line to the lighthouse then down the escarpment. Or, you could run the opposit way from the lighthouse


(7) - Corner Pointers:
Any number of corner pointers will work the viewer into the scene and help hold them there. In the image above this would be the sky shadow top left, the pushing white light top right and the shrub branches bottom left and right.


(8) - Parallel Perpendiculars:
Used by the great masters to incorporate the element of drama into their paintings and is shown here with the ocean swells and beach and, the tree lines and escarpment bellow the lighthouse.


(9) - Curves:
Adds rhythm to a photograph and is shown with the sweep of the top of the clouds and, the beach line running to the far headland.


(10) - Golden Mean and Area Proportions:
Or golden section or ratio - "The Divine Proportion". Golden Mean is the ratio 1:1.618 and is shown here as the proportion above and bellow the horizon line. This ratio was used in ancient Greek and Roman architecture and by master artists and, can be see throughout nature including the balance and beauty of the human face.


Area Proportion is similar in theory to golden mean and provides visual balance. Where a smaller area is proportional to a larger area as the larger area is proportional to the entire image. Shown here as the area of Pittwater is to the ocean, as the ocean is to the entire scene.
(11) - The Rule of Thirds:
Splits the image into vertical and horizontal thirds and provides interest and visual comfort. For example, the distant tree line runs loosely along the top third of the image and, the image itself is loosely split into one third sections - Middle shrub and cloud on the left vertical line and the sand dune on the right vertical.
(12) - Visual Links and Perspective:
I t's not just the two dimensions of width and height that make a photograph, it's also the third dimension of depth. The use of visual links can tie an image together at different levels of depth. In "Barrenjoey Dreamtime" the foreground rock ledge is similar in shape to the distant cloud bank. And, the top of the middle foreground shrub links to the individual cloud above it. This pulls the image together and perspective is accentuated by the convergence of the waves and beach into the distance and the convergence of the tree lines and escarpment towards the lighthouse on the right. Being aware of this will suck you into the photograph.

Rate each element discussed above: 1 point for good or 1/2 point for fair and 0 if it's not apparent in your image. Add up the total:


1 Point = Be bold - Delete the image
2 Points = You have taken a photograph
3 Points = It's quite a good photograph
4 Points = It's a very good photograph
5 Points = It's an exceptional photograph
6 Points = You have qualified as a photographer
7 Points = You have become a great photographer
8 Points = You will be seen as an expert in your field
9 Points = You will be accepted as a recognized master
10 Points =You are on the verge of creating a masterpiece
11 Points =You have probably created a masterpiece
12 Points =You did it....
The closest photograph I have to a 10 point image would be "Barrenjoey Dreamtime" and used as our rating sample.
This is how I work and, if you follow these guidelines, it should improve your photographic ability and, just as importantly, your photographic appreciation. Most of my work falls within the mid range 4 to 7.


Now, you can keep all of this in mind but, there is an even higher objective.... The image, within itself, must also look natural, spontaneous and effortless. What I learnt here, I also try to apply to my oil paintings. 


Stephen Fitzgerald
14th February 2018



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