Food for thought ...

Art of photography

The following treatise presents some of what I consider important and frequently overlooked aspects of art and photography. There is no right and wrong way to create. There are just guidelines that point the way. There are useful suggestions.

By Daniel Vidoni
June 2004

The following treatise presents some of what I consider important and frequently overlooked aspects of art and photography. There is no right and wrong way to create. There are just guidelines that point the way. There are useful suggestions.

I hope you come away from reading this with a different point of view which you will find helpful on your journey. If not, that's OK too. Either way you will have a better understanding of where I am coming from and also the kinds of tools I use to create my art with.

Brief history of photography

The word photography comes from the Greek photos (meaning light) and graphos (meaning write or drawing). Therefore photography means writing with light, which is a good description.

Photography has been around for about 180 years, with the first successful photograph being produced by Niépce (pronounced Nee-ps) in 1827. In the early days exposures would take several hours and, as you might expect, weren't very good. During the 1830s great improvements were made by Louis Daguerre with exposure times falling to half an hour.

Advances by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851 allowed exposure times of mere seconds and photography began to be adopted as a mainstream image making medium, enjoying explosive growth from the 1850s.

In 1884 George Eastman introduced flexible film and the box camera, allowing photography to become accessible to the masses; and the rest is history.

Every art form has something to offerSide-effects of the medium

Once mainstream artists realised what photography was capable of, they feared they would be out of a job. After all, what's the point of being able to paint photo realistic portraits over a period of weeks if a photographer could do it more accurately in five seconds?

One of the art world's responses was a move away from Realism toward Abstraction and Impressionism. In 1872 Claude Monet painted 'Impression: Sunrise', the first Impressionist work, which influenced a generation of artists. Without the advent of photography this wonderful line of artistic expression may never have been explored.

The metaphysical nature of a photograph

Contrary to popular belief, a photograph is not a two-dimensional portrait of something that occurred in the past. A photograph represents a frozen cross-section taken from the infinitely long ribbon of time and space which we call reality. It is a four dimensional snapshot of a space-time event.

The camera is positioned in a certain location in space and focused on an object also in space. The shutter stays open for a certain amount of time allowing the cross-section to be taken. Depending on the amount of time the shutter stays open, the aperture used and the amount of movement that occurred during exposure, different results will be observed.

Photos are 4 dimensionalFour dimensional photography

How can a photograph be four dimensional? If you look at any photograph, at its simplest level it has up and down, left and right (2 dimensions). If you look more closely it also has a foreground and a background (3 dimensions). Finally, because a photograph is taken at a particular time and place using a certain amount of exposure time, then time itself becomes a dimension (4 dimensions).

In the case of portrait photography the foreground usually consists of a subject with the background slightly out of focus in order to throw the subject into starker relief and focus your attention on it. It gives the photo a sense of depth. Having a slightly darker background with a well lit foreground also helps achieve this.

Photographs of Formula One cars frozen stiff with blurred backgrounds betray the high velocities at which the car was moving when the shot was made. So within a static single frame you get enough information to determine the speed and direction the subject was moving in. The photo captured a 4D event.

A night photo of a city street exposed over 3 minutes shows light-streaked roads and no people. How can this be ? Because people and cars are always moving, they get smudged away during the long time exposure and end up vanishing from the frame.

This time dilation effect is this kind of thing I am trying to demonstrate when I talk about 4D photography. Photography is just as much about the manipulation of time as it is about the manipulation of light.

Getting perspective

Once you stop thinking of a photo as only two dimensional you begin to see many more possibilities for the medium. Consider that in ancient times painters painted without perspective because they thought of an image as two dimensional.

Once perspective foreshortening was understood their art became much more realistic. Later, having fully mastered the rendering of light and tone, they were able to create photo-realistic paintings which have yet to be surpassed.

The colour dimension

One could argue that adding colour also adds yet another dimension. I don't agree. Colour is not a dimension because it has no measurable co-ordinates or spatial parameters. Many of my best photographs actually look better in black and white than in colour because when the chromatic 'noise' is stripped out you are left with a clearer understanding of what the photographer was thinking or trying to achieve. The subject's form is more defined and the lines running around the frame are more noticeable.


A photograph is taken in the future, not the present. In order to take a great photo one needs to be in the right place at the right time. One can employ luck to achieve this but luck is a fickle tool to earn a living with. One minute it works with you, the next it's against you. I don't believe in luck and never rely on it as my business partner. A better way of being in the right place at the right time is to predict the future.

The perfect moment ?Predicting the future

Most people believe this is impossible and don't even try to accomplish this. Predicting the future is a skill which can be learned just like any other skill. In the case of predicting where one should stand and when to press the button on the camera to take a great shot it's relatively easy.

Observation is the key. What's going on around you? Where are people standing? Where are they moving toward? What are they carrying which could retard their progress in that direction? What obstacles do they need to negotiate to get to where they're going? What dynamics are occurring in the group and what will the results of these dynamics be in the next few seconds?

By using a heightened awareness of your surroundings, by being in tune with what's happening in 'the now', it becomes easy to peek into the immediate future and see what will be, where it will be, and even when it will be. I do this all the time. Luck has nothing to do with it.

One of the 20th century's greatest photographers, Henri Cartier-Bresson was well aware of this and he spent his professional life seeking the perfect moment in every corner of the world.

Taking great photographs

Joy of lifeTo take good photos you should read books, buy a good camera and learn how to use it, take lots of photographs and study the results you get back, be patient, be open-minded and study other artists' work.

To take great photographs, understand that photography occurs in the future, not the present. Know and understand your subject. Let it speak to you and allow the interpretation to flow from your relationship with it.

Above all, enjoy what you're doing. Always.


Photo credits:
Impression: Sunrise - Claude Monet
Shark photo - Chris Fallows
Street scene - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Party girl - Daniel Vidoni



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