F 1.4 from Leica Images
Every morning I check two websites
for new images. Leica Images and
LFi’s Online gallery have some of the
finest, user submitted, pictures on the
planet. I wanted to take a moment
to discuss why these pictures are
-F 1.4 aka Dustan Osborn
Coming back from India, my memory felt like it was put on color enhanced steroids. New York looked very gray compared to the dirt roads of Kanyakumari. But when I came across F 1.4 aka Dustan Osborn’s “Japanese Garden” the rainbow returned with a cultural twist. A woman wearing a traditional Indian sari (full body dress) pauses, looking over railing at something below. Surrounded by trees, her thoughts are a mystery. We can’t see what she is looking at or know why she stopped on the bridge. Mixing two iconic images, the Japanese Garden and a traditional Indian sari, we are left to imagine how these two cultures relate to each other.
The Three C’s: Composition, Color, & Content
Composition: 1st Level
Simple pictures are often the most difficult to compose. With any straight lines or clear horizon, how do you position a figure in a landscape? If you are too far back, the person becomes lost, and if you are too close, the setting disappears. What are the key points to consider when composing a picture and why does this picture work so well?
There are three levels of composition in the photograph, can you see them? The first level starts with the rule of thirds. Dividing the picture into thirds, we can see the woman and the hidden horizon fall on the primary lines dividing the picture. To make a writing analogy, we can call this a strong opening paragraph. Without any effort our eye can feel the depth of the forest, while focusing on the woman on the left.
Ansel Adam’s used an interesting technique in his career which can be applied here. In much of his early work Adam’s would put the horizon in the top third of the image. By dedicating 2/3rd of the picture to the foreground, the forest and mountains are the dominant features. But later in his career, he made a big switch. The horizon line was dropped devoting 2/3rd of the image to the expansive sky. This subtle change, shifts the feel of the image observation to imagination. The endless expanse of blue/black skies in Adam’s pictures expose the psychological limitations of grasping infinity. Staring into the horizon, it is difficult to fully appreciate the space before our eyes.
In “Japanese Garden” the horizon line is set low allowing the forest to expand from a single leaf into a sea of green. We cannot tell where it ends. It allows the picture to stand alone, like a dream that does not exist in time or space.
Composition: 2nd Level
After mastering the rule of thirds a photographer will be capable of taking beautifully balanced pictures. They will understand how a viewers eyes will migrate from front to the back of a scene. But too much balance eventually gets boring. There needs to be an element of dynamic movement to keep the mind engaged. Realizing a dynamic composition can be achieved by understanding the corners of a picture and how a triangle causes the eye to pin ball around the frame.
Its been said a million times before, namely by Henri Cartier-Bresson, but look at pictures upside down will help you see their composition. Once a picture is inverted it becomes clear if there is nothing going on in the corners of the frame. Whether its a converging line or a bright light source, watching the corners of your images will bring an incredible dynamic to your pictures like the Italian Futurist painter Umberto Boccioni.
The triangle in this image is executed to near perfection. The dark corner, on the right hand side directs all of our attention to the bottom left. By pointing the tip of the triangle at the lower left corner all of our attention eventually finds the subject, the lovely woman and her unknown thoughts.
Composition: 3rd Level
Sub plots are interesting. Who wants to watch a movie about two people fighting? We would rather know that while they are fighting, one is sleeping with their best friend, while the other is embezzling money from their former boss. One liners in film or in photographs loose their novelty quickly.
Within this serene forest portrait, is an image that could stand on its own. Looking at the left side of the picture, there are two very strong vertical lines. The bridge post and the tree in the distance focus our eyes on the contrasting purple of the woman’s sari. Her head sits almost exactly in the middle of the vertical lines. The fabulous thing about this photo is how Dustan managed to achieve three completely different compositional elements in one frame. Its starts with a simple rule of thirds, transitions to a bouncing triangle, and then closes with a symmetrical conclusion. Speed up and slowing down our eye, the pictures has a tremendous range of activity disguised in a deceptively simple image.
During the Middle Ages, the quality of a painting was often judged by how much money the patron invested in the commission. From this absurd practice where “My picture has more blue in it, so my church is more divine,” came a painting technique called Cangiantismo. Its a fancy Italian term that means the darkest color in a painting is the pure pigment. As an example the folds of a blue gown would not have any black mixed in to the paint. To preserve the expensive blue pigment and highlight the wealth of the patron the shadows would be done in pure blue.
Having never spoke to Dustan about “The Japanese Garden” I can’t say for sure if this was a deliberate choice. But for those of us enjoying the image, its interesting to note, the lack of pure black unifies the hues of forest with the woman and the bridge. You can see how the purple tones are reflected in the trees and the bluish light on the bridge is echoed in the subjects gray hair. Even the gold peeking out from behind the trees in the upper left appears in the gold of the sari. Everything in the images comes from just a few colors and I think adds to the dreamy feeling of the scene.
“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” Stephen King
This quote, directed at writers, applies to photographers. There are millions, literally millions of beautiful pictures taken every day. In the age of digital photography, beautiful pictures are easy to find, but meaningful pictures are still challenging to create. “Japanese Garden” touches on three interesting conversations about place, identity, and crossing cultural boundaries. Instead of writing what I feel about this image, here are the questions I see in the image:
1. How does our relationship to nature change as we age?
2. Is there really any division between what we build and the environment?
3. Will our work be considered a positive contribution by the next generation?
As the New Year’s celebrations are swept from the city squares, we are all a little older and perhaps a little wiser. The impressions we have of life, as it speeds by, are as varied as the leaves in a forest. Each one different, but unified in their effort to grow and improve the organism they feed. I want to thank Dustan for distilling the unknown thoughts of an anonymous woman for all of us to consider.
See more of Dustan Osborn’s work at Leica Images.
For other great pictures taken on Leica cameras check out LFI Online Gallery.