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Worth 1000 Words #010 --
February 16, 2011

As I'm preparing this month's issue of the eZine, IBM's super-computer "Watson" is busy crushing the human contestants on Jeopardy, the IBM Challenge. It makes me wonder: will we ever have a computer that takes fine art photos, and has an aesthetic sensibility? Would it learn to take pictures by following rules? Would it know when it's okay to break a rule?

In this month's issue, I talk about when it's okay to break the rule of thirds. I've also written a little rant about the plight of fine art color photography. I have a new creativity exercise for you, and a cool link that marks the end of a photographic era. What more could you ask for? Enjoy!

Hey! Color Photography is Hard Too!

Some time ago, I was participating in an outdoor art show where I had a booth showcasing my photography.  A woman was flipping through my rack of loose prints.  I do mostly color photography, but occasionally produce some black and whites.  Flip, flip, flip.  “Ah!” said the woman, as she came across one of my few black and whites, “Black and white!  Now that’s hard.  Color is easy!” I’m afraid that I was stunned into silence, and failed to respond at the time. 

I don’t think I need to try too hard to make the case to you photographers out there that there’s more to making a good color photograph than just tripping the shutter. Where, then, does this attitude come from? The perception seems to be that because color photography is now so accessible through the abundance of inexpensive digital cameras, that it is also “easy.” On the other hand, special post-processing skills are required to produce a black and white image, so it must be hard. The high esteem in which black and white photography is held in the eyes of the general public may also be due to photographers such as Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson. They are household names, and have made photography, in the context of art, synonymous with black and white.

The prevalence of some level of disdain for color photography as “fine art” certainly impacts the color photographer who wishes to sell his or her work. I have had more than one gallery owner tell me that they “can’t sell color.”  Meanwhile, I can look around the walls of their gallery and see a veritable rainbow of colors.  “Ah,” comes the reply.  “But those are paintings, not photography.”  I can’t argue with what sells.  Gallery owners are governed by the laws of supply and demand, and color photography is still not widely perceived as fine art by the public.

Will this attitude change, I wonder, as the black and white shooting mode becomes available on newer digital cameras? Will that make black and white photography seem “easy” too? Will color photography ever enjoy the same status as black and white? I leave you with questions, and no answers. Only time will tell!

Creativity Exercise

“X” Marks the Spot! When I take students out into the field for a photography workshop, I always suggest this exercise to them. I ask them to pick a single spot, stay there for a pre-determined amount of time, and shoot a specific number of pictures (it used to be “one roll of film!”). Usually, 15 minutes is the most anyone wants to attempt! The longer you stay, however, the more you’ll push your creativity. This works even better if you choose a spot where you think there are no images to be had. If you discipline yourself to stay put and shoot, you’ll be forced to get creative to find images, and you'll usually begin to really see what’s around you. Give it a try!

Something Every Photographer Needs to Know: Tip of the Month

Rules were meant to be Broken: Breaking the Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is an oft-quoted rule in photography, and for good reason. Placing your subject off-centre can produce pleasing effects. But can a central subject ever work? Yes, it certainly can.

Central placement can give power and impact to a subject. This works best when you have a single, dominant subject, and a simple composition with no competing elements. Portraits can work well with this technique, including portraits of people animals, and even plants.

Central placement of a subject, or your horizon line, can also work when there is a lot of symmetry in the scene. The central placement will emphasize the symmetry.

Central placement is usually frowned upon because it can make your image quite static. Sometimes, however, “static” might be what you want to convey. If stability is central to the story you want to tell, then central subject placement may serve to enhance your message. Just remember to use central placement of your subject purposefully and thoughtfully.

I think it’s always a good idea to learn a rule well before attempting to break it, so check out our page on the rule of thirds. Then get out your camera, and experiment! Try photographing the same subject placed centrally, as well as in the thirds “power positions” and judge for yourself what works best.

Too Cool Not to Share!

The End of an Era

It’s the end of an era. The last roll of Kodachrome film has been produced, and through a special arrangement, it was exposed by none other than National Geographic photographer, Steve McCurry (the photographer who took the famous picture of the Afghan Girl). Check out what Steve McCurry shot with the very last roll of Kodachrome ever:

What’s New this Month at Ultimate Photo Tips

Special Deals!

I'm always on the lookout for special deals for my readers from my affiliate partners. I've chosen reputable companies producing photography-related products and services. I'm doing my best to keep the links fresh by updating them about once a week. Check out what's new from B&H,, CanvasPress and NAPP:

Photo Challenges

The topic of January's photo challenge was “Water.” We had some great entries! Check out the striking winning image of a red oak leaf covered in water droplets by Luis A. Vera from Laflin, PA, USA:

The topic for February's challenge is "Winter." Here in Toronto, we're still in the thick of it. Might as well get out and enjoy photographing it! Let's see what winter looks like in your part of the world. Submit your winter images here:

Happy shooting from Ultimate Photo Tips!
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