Before I go into explaining what I'm doing with a post filled with nothing but boring pictures of lines... a little background. A relative gave me a book for Christmas titled Talent Is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin. It's been an exciting read--it argues that world-class performers, from Mozart to Tiger Woods, got that way not through an innate giftedness (it's tempting to attribute people's achievements to talent that we can never have), but through grueling practice and effective coaching. Colvin ascribes their greatness to a particular style of practicing that specifically targets your weaknesses (making the practice fundamentally draining and not fun), and that uses exercises that can be performed in high-volume. He presents a lot of compelling evidence from studies and from details of the lives of legendary athletes, musicians, chess players, and business people.
One of the biggest hurdles for me has always been the fear that without some inborn artistic ability I would never become a decent photographer. My experience has gradually taught me otherwise, though, and the arguments in this book have completely blown that thinking out of the water for me.
I'm excited, now, to apply these concepts to improving my photography. Over the years, I've gradually learned that becoming a great photographer is not so much about learning how to use all the features on a camera and all of the tools in Photoshop, but more about becoming an artist who can recognize the beauty in a scene and use those tools to bring it out.
I'm not going to photography school, or even photography class (at least while there's two toddlers at home), but I do have some good books and friends to help guide me. I'm going to have to be mostly self-taught in my spare time, but I'm encouraged by Colvin's anecdote of Benjamin Franklin, who practiced to become an accomplished writer while working full time at a printing press and relying on the works of other greater writers as a guide.
For my first exercise, I'm exploring the concept of line. The exercise has evolved a bit as I've worked on it, but here it is in the form of an assignment:
Take at least 20 pictures of line, with 10 in man-made environments, and 10 in nature.
- The emphasis is on form over content--the images don't have to be interesting, just demonstrate a concept.
- In the man-made environment, the images have to be unique in terms of what type of contrast (light and shadow, different textures, etc.) creates the line. This is because man-made lines are abundant.
- In nature, I didn't apply this restriction--the images can be of any naturally occurring line. This is because I mostly shoot in nature and I simply want to learn to recognize all of the lines I encounter in the places I typically shoot.
The line formed by the border between two materials or textures
The emphasis on form over content is helpful because it means I can shoot these images easily at any time, even on my lunch break when the light is harsh and terrible :).
Also, I quickly realized that there are many different uses for lines--horizontals, verticals, diagonals, and curves all have different qualities. Some lines lead the eye along them, others serve as a frame or a lens to focus your attention.
For this exercise, though, I focused on simply what defines a line. I want to be able to recognize all of the lines in a scene--both to recognize what lines are available to use in making my composition, and to recognize any lines that might be interfering with my shot. All too often I pull the images off the camera at home and spot distracting lines that I didn't see while I was shooting.
A series of objects can form a line, such as a row of rocks at the beach
With all that out of the way, here is the full gallery of my results!
The images also seemed to become an exercise in minimalism (if I'm using that label correctly), because I always tried to isolate the line as much as possible from any surrounding distractions.
Overall, I think the exercise was a success. I'm finding that when I look at a scene or an image now, I'm paying much closer attention to where there is contrast. Perhaps most significantly, I think practicing this as an exercise has also caused me to look more critically and deliberately at a scene--to be less distracted by the exciting natural beauty and to be more focused on what design elements are available in front of me.
The line formed between light and shadow can be very strong
Finally, it's been abundantly clear while doing this that "line" is far from everything, and there are many more forces at work in an image to learn about. I'm excited to move on to the next one!