PH Emerson and later the F/64 group, including amongst others Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, interested me particularly when reading through the course. This was because if my ideas for night/twilight photography that I intended to entertain for Assignment 1 – Landscape and perhaps beyond turned out like I imagined them, then this kind of approach would suit me well. A reason for this was ultimately images would be produced that consisted of subjects with sharp focus throughout. However, certain parts of the images could appear in motion, through longer exposures invoked from the small apertures used; quite ironically in order to get the rest of the subjects sharply in focus. This related back to something I had been finding with my photography.
Photography can almost force you down certain avenues within certain genres; for landscape, a high fstop is required for a slow shutter speed, providing the ISO remains constant. This thereby provides potential for the appearance of movement (usually in clouds or water). Conversely, a slower shutter speed is usually required for a large fstop, in order to make everything (else) sharp. So a tripod is required, both for the longer exposure and the small aperture making everything sharp! This conveniently coincides with two desirable effects that are often employed in landscape photography – a sense of movement and an aesthetic realism through everything else being sharp in the image.
This is further accentuated at certain times of the day; like the ‘blue hour’, just after sunset/before sunrise. This time of day is quite desirable because it looks more beautiful (or sublime), depending on what perspective you are looking at it from than say, midday. These images tend to benefit (from my experience), with sharp foreground and background elements, with the sky and/or water (and possibly moving people) providing the sense of movement in time. Here, there is the contrast between the sharp authenticity of the foreground and background subjects and the subliminal effects of the moving elements. The blue, otherworldly skies and the city lights coming to life add to this tension. It is coincidentally the time of day when these two factors (the sharpness throughout the frame and the sense of movement) are most manageable technically. This is for the reasons described above; with the ISO remaining low and the camera on a tripod the shutter speed are longer and f numbers are large naturally, without being overly so.
Long exposures can be a bit of a double-edged sword: on the one hand they’re very cool and sometimes sublime when used wisely. On the other hand they can become a bit clichéd, with some (at least landscape) photographers using the technique for the sake of it and also for a more remote reason. The remote reason is that it differentiates itself from what can be achieved on a DSLR from that on a smartphone, for example, because of the effects it produces. It is one of only a few ways DSLR photographs nowadays can appear ‘superior’ over smartphone photographs. However, when used ‘wisely’, it can tell the passage of time within a photograph or make subliminal effects that provoke emotional reaction.
Using small apertures (large f numbers) instead, were seen by photographers, notably Emerson for example to break out of pictorial traditions, where large apertures had been previously used to create soft, dreamy effects. The reasoning for this was Emerson felt (strongly) that the compositional elements and aesthetics should take precedence over what the photographer was feeling at the time.
So it could almost be seen that photography has come full circle nowadays, where long exposures are desirable but more importantly allow the photographer to introduce a pictorial feel, through using techniques that strangely follow rules similar to traditions of the F/64 group. This is where the aperture is purposely small in offer to produce sharp images throughout. Adversely, longer exposures can be invoked, producing effects that could be likened to the pictorial traditions that landscape photography started with. This is especially true when the final image has been post-processed: enhancing the effects of movement through dodging and burning and other local adjustments.
I still argue there is still a very good reason to adhere to getting the exposure as close to ideal in camera as possible, where it was practically essential for those photographers then. This is because while it is true ‘adequate’ results can be achieved in post-processing form exposures that aren’t ideal in camera, more than adequate results can be produced from an ideal exposure; for example there is often less noise in a well-exposed shot (or even exposed-to-the-right shots when used carefully) than in comparison to an underexposed shot where the shadows were ‘pulled up’ to retrieve detail. While these differences can be minimal or only visible at a magnified level, they tend to add up if the digital file is heavily processed.
Some other factors affecting whether an exposure is captured ideally in camera, would be keeping the camera level to reduce distortion and straightening corrections which can reduce final resolution of an image.
I was aware that one of the reasons I chose to do landscape as the next part of my course was that I would be able produce photographs that were ‘aesthetically pleasing’ to the eye. This I think is a bit different to beauty; firstly because it means I am actively trying to create images how I want them to look, rather than other people. However, I was aware that I would probably have followed (or intentionally (hopefully!!), broken) certain technical rules to increase the likelihood that others find the photographs aesthetically pleasing too. Because I believe beauty is subjective, it made sense to me that others might find photographs I produce beautiful too, with others ‘only’ finding them aesthetically pleasing.
On the other side of this argument was the realisation that for me, with sublime (and to a lesser extent beauty in my opinion), viewer’s sometimes don’t have to decide whether they find a photograph either one of these two contrasting aesthetics; they simply ‘feel’ something for a photograph that is sublime or beautiful.