The ABC of CameraWork: Andy Beel discusses his innovative viewfinder mnemonic
Posted: 16 Nov 2018
Professional photographer and monochrome printer, Andy Beel FRPS talks about his viewfinder workflow to pre-visualise the picture artistically and technically before pressing the shutter. In the first of a two-part series, Andy discusses his innovative viewfinder mnemonic. Andy uses Fotospeed Platinum Baryta 300 and Etching 285 papers. You can find out more about Andy here
Back in 2011, I came up with an easily remembered mnemonic called 'The ABC of CameraWork' to help photographers purposefully and quickly deal with all the viewfinder issues before pressing the shutter release.
Who benefits from The ABC of CameraWork?
This way of working is suitable for all photographers everywhere. The viewfinder workflow is relevant to all photographers using any medium, working in any artistic genre. It makes no difference if you are working in colour or black and white, photographing portraits in northern Libya, or football on a wet Tuesday evening in November.
What will my picture look like?
As photographers, we all have completely different ways of working with our cameras, however, the intended end result is always a common theme. From the vast possibilities of subjects, the photographer selects a subject to present to the viewer. You are in the viewer’s eyes, you decide what to photograph, and how, why, and when to press the shutter release. The little matter of understanding how your picture will look artistically and technically before you press the shutter is always an issue for many photographers. This pre-visualisation of the artistic and technical is the subject of this article.
A Is for Attraction
As an accomplished photographer, what do you look for in a potential picture?
The first letter in my mnemonic of the ABC of the CameraWork is A for Attraction. As a professional photographer, at the taking stage, I am looking for pictures that interest me at an intuitive level. After 30 years, I know my own vision and style, but just because I shoot some pictures does not mean that they will get used. If I am still attracted to or interested in the subject a year later, that is the test as to whether the pictures were worth taking or not.
Attraction – understand the reason for taking the picture and share it with the viewer
Luskentyre Sands – Isle of Harris as taken without global and local post-processing adjustments. © Andy Beel FRPS 2006
Attraction is the essential reason for raising the camera to the eye, and deciding what is it about the potential subject that makes it remarkable or interesting or picture worthy. As a photographer, you have to know the answer to this question. If you are unsure what and why you are photographing something, how will your viewer understand the subject in the same way as you?
As a professional photography mentor, I get to see many people’s work, and as you’d expect, the range of quality presented mirrors the good, bad and indifferent. Much of my mentoring work deals with getting to the root of what is being photographed and how to make it dominate or stand out in the picture space. This is a two-part process which begins in-camera with selecting the optimum viewpoint, focal length, depth of field, composition and removing distractions. By getting it right in the camera, the post-processing workflow becomes more straightforward. In Lightroom or Photoshop, every picture needs a subtle transformation to make the dominant subject gently stand out.
Subject contrast – light on dark
One of my picture templates is a light subject on a darker toned background. I principally work in black-and-white and have done for the past 30 years. A light subject on a dark background creates inherent picture contrast – monochrome is about contrast, not colour. It doesn’t matter whether the range of tonality within the picture is as taken or created later in the post-processing.
If you work in colour, the thinking becomes slightly more intricate. There is always a relationship between the foreground subject and the background. In terms of the colour harmony and balance, how do the hue, saturation and luminance of the picture elements work together to make a cohesive whole? It may a case of the right subject and a wrong background because of the colour relationship.
Earlier I mentioned picture templates – every photographer has them and uses them knowingly or unknowingly. A picture template is your way of selecting a subject, composing and presenting a picture. If you were to do a review of all the pictures you have taken, you will find there are repeated patterns in what works for you. Each repeated pattern is a picture template. To improve your photography, you need to know what your current picture templates are by doing a review, and seek to diversify and increase the number and range of templates you use.
For me, the natural end of the creative process is printmaking. A print is a permanent statement of your current vision, style, seeing or attraction, and picture templates that are not demeaned by digital storage and presentation. If you want interested people to see your work as you fully intended it to be seen, show them prints under appropriate lighting. No one sees the ‘attraction’ element of your picture as you meant it to be on a computer monitor, even when it is calibrated. I will print my photographs on Fotospeed Platinum Baryta 300 and Fotospeed Platinum Etching Paper 285 to reveal the delicate highlights and smooth transitions to shadows in my black and white prints.
B is for Background
© Andy Beel FRPS 2016 - Outdoor photography exhibition, Centre Pompidou, Malaga 2016. The posts and shadows on the right-hand side of the picture have been used to pull the eye through the picture frame to the patch of sunlight to right.
How important is the picture background?
Have you noticed that some pictures have backgrounds that work really well and others don’t? For me, the background to the picture is a real make or break issue. The background is 50% of your picture and it must be an equal 50% to the foreground. Ignore the background at your peril. In every picture-taking situation, there is always a range of viewpoints and corresponding backgrounds.
Your job as the photographer in charge is to find the optimum viewpoint and background with every picture-taking opportunity.
C is for composition
Electric guitar – New Brunswick 2009, © Andy Beel FRPS 2009
What is the critical part of composing a picture?
Not all potential picture composition opportunities are created equal. I tend to think that there are three levels of picture composition opportunity.
Level I: the stage is set waiting for the actors to appear.
Level II: the actors are on the stage but nothing interesting is happening.
Level III: everything about the picture points to the peak of the action and connects with the viewer at an emotional level.
Deciding the must-haves
When you think about composing your picture, you must decide what are the must-have or essential elements in the picture to make it work visually. What is the dominant subject matter? Where are the supporting elements to be placed within the frame?
As equally important to the must-have elements are the must-NOT have elements, what is it that you definitely do not want to encroach in your picture?
The composition plastic hammer test
If you give a two-year-old a plastic hammer to them everything looks like a nail to be hit. After a while, the constant banging of the hammer becomes very tedious to adults. How does this analogy fit into the photographic composition?
The two-year-old has a pre-set idea of what a nail looks like, and hits it. Those who use the so-called ‘rule of thirds’ to compose their pictures are using pre-set thought and action without any individual engagement with the subject or process. A potential reason for this is that composition requires individual artistic judgement which has no right or wrong answers.
The ABC Manual of CameraWork
The ABC of CameraWork Manual provides a workflow and unravels the process of instantly made viewfinder decisions, helping you avoid making unconscious decisions. Discover how you can decide artistically and technically what your picture will look like before you press the shutter release.
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- The ABC of CameraWork: Andy Beel discusses part 2 of his viewfinder workflow
- Shedding light on the daily moments of life: Lucy Saggers on black and white photography
- A Meeting of Minds: An Interview with On Landscape's Tim Parkin
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