Lighting & Composition Photo Editing

Photography, Accidental Inventions and the Space–Time Continuum
By Rick Sammon

In this excerpt, I’d like to share with you two concepts that may, at first, sound a bit far out. After reading about them, however, I think you will see how they make sense when it comes to your photography. In addition, I think they will also give you a feeling of satisfaction about the creative image-making process.

The Accidental Invention

While reading the article “Why Music?” in the December 20th – January 2nd 2009 issue of The Economist, I came upon this line: “Music is a cross between an accident and an invention.”

As someone who plays guitar and/or piano every day, I have to say I agree. I often accidentally come across a chord progression (a series of chords that sound nice when played together) that becomes my own invention. I feel good. Creative.

The article got me thinking about photography: perhaps a good photograph is also a cross between an accident and an invention?

I guess you could say that the opening image above was an accident: I accidentally found this abandoned house while walking around a run-down estate near my home in Westchester, New York.

I thought it would be the perfect setting for a model shoot – a beautiful model posed in a decaying building. When it comes to my model, I met her about 10 years earlier by accident at a workshop that I was leading for Popular Photography magazine.

You could also say that the image is an invention: I experimented with HDR software (Photomatix) and a Photoshop-compatible plug-in (Topaz Adjust) to “invent” an image.

If I took you to this location to shoot, your invention would be your own. You may choose not to shoot HDR, you might not frame the model’s head so that it is isolated in the scene by the red frame on the far wall, you may choose to have the model looking at you, or you may think that a black-and-white treatment would be the way to go.

Here is another image that you might call a cross between an accident and an invention.

I was photographing this motocross rider in Tampa, Florida when I had the idea, quite by accident, to shoot a panorama.

I invented the image, one that shows the same rider in several locations in the frame, in Adobe Photoshop, but using the program’s Photomerge feature to combine multiple images, with the help of some cloning.

Had you been there, you might have gone for a single, action-packed shot.

So why is the “accidental invention” concept important to you as a photographer? First, if you are aware that accidents (surprises) can happen, you can and should be prepared – always – to capture a scene with the right photo know-how, the right equipment and the right software and processing techniques. If you are prepared, you will have no regret about missing the photo that “got away.”

Second, I think the concept will make you feel good about your work. Think about it: I am sure that most of your photographs are original inventions, even if you do just a bit of image processing on an iconic shot. Being an inventor is cool.

The Space–Time Continuum

The space–time continuum is a mathematical model that combines space and time into a single idea. That concept came to mind when I took this photograph of a lenticular cloud near Mt. Rainier in Washington State.

If you had been there, you might have chosen a different space (composition) for your photograph. You might have taken a wider or tighter shot, or you may have composed your image vertically.

What about time? You may not have pressed the shutter release button at exactly the same time as I had, so the clouds might have been in a slightly different position. You also may not have used the same shutter speed that I used, which could have affected the movement of the clouds in your photograph.

Back home, you probably would have processed the image differently, perhaps making it a more saturated image or a black-and-white image.

When you think about it, any photograph you take is a single idea – of your individual vision. Acting on your ideas, and accomplishing your goals, will give you a good feeling about your work.

With your photographs, you convey and share with others, your own individual feelings with time (the precise moment you take the shot) and space (your exact composition).

I was also thinking about the space–time continuum when I took this photograph by moonlight at the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico.

The “space–time continuum/single idea” concept also applies to your processed images, as illustrated by this image I created in Adobe Photoshop from a single image. To me, it looks as though the rider, who I photographed at a motocross track near Tampa, Florida, is flying through space (my composition) at sunrise or sunset (time) on a distant planet.

I guess this excerpt has another message: that thinking about the psychological aspects of photography, and only two are covered here, can help us become better photographers and feel more confident about our work.

I know all this accidental invention and space–time continuum stuff sounds very cerebral. It is, but I think it’s important for photographers to think about more than simply technique.

If these concepts are too much to digest, think about what my photography friend Miss Aniela says about good photographs: they are the result of dumb luck – when different elements magically come together, and when everything works perfectly.

I guess you could say that this photograph of a whale shark, which I took in the Maldives, is a dumb luck shot. The magnificent animal, about the size of a school bus, briefly came to the surface while we were cruising from one island to another. What luck, I thought. I grabbed my camera, put on my face mask and swim fins, jumped into the water, swam like mad, and got the shot I envisioned, during an encounter that lasted maybe only two minutes.

When you are photographing, think about accidental inventions, the space–time continuum and luck . . . and this quote on luck/chance: “Chance favors the prepared mind.” – Louis Pasteur.

Most important, think – and visualize the end result.


Excerpt from Rick Sammon’s Creative Visualization for Photographers: Composition, exposure, lighting, learning, experimenting, setting goals, motivation and more by Rick Sammon © 2015 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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