Tag Archives: Eaton

Realism and Abstraction in Painting and Photography

Five Cars, Building Clouds. Eaton, Colorado, 2019.

It’s been observed that painting is an additive medium, whereas photography is a subtractive medium.  In painting, you start with a blank canvas and add elements to it to build your composition (for example by painting a house, painting a tree next to the house, painting a blue sky above the tree and house, etc.), while in photography you start with a cluttered frame and subtract elements from it (for example, by moving the camera to exclude the fire hydrant in the foreground, zooming in to eliminate the gas station next to the house, etc.) until you have only the elements left necessary for the composition you are trying to achieve.

It seems to me also that painting is a medium concerned with the adding of realism, whereas photography is medium concerned with the adding of abstraction.  In painting, you start with a blank canvas, the ultimate expression of abstraction.  There’s nothing there, it can be anything you want until you start painting on it.  The process of creating the painting is essentially the process of adding realism to it, right up until you reach the level of realism that you desire, be it a still-pretty-abstract piece of abstract expressionism, a somewhat-more-realistic work of impressionism, or a very-realistic work of (quite appropriately named) photorealism.

Photography is just the opposite.  The nature of the camera is to produce an image that is perhaps the ultimate expression of two-dimensional realism.  However, if you hold a camera up in front of something and simply click the shutter, the resulting image will be photo-realistic, but rarely will be pleasing.  It takes the application of abstraction to make a photograph interesting, and the tools of the photographer are largely used to introduce abstraction into the photographic image.  Such tools include, for example, camera placement, lens selection, long exposure, and dodging and burning, which were the tools used to in the making of the image in this post.

 

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Tools of the Trade

Steel Staircases.  Near Eaton, CO 2015

Steel Stairs
Near Eaton, Colorado 2015

I believe in keeping things simple, so for the last few years I’ve been carrying only two lenses – a Canon 24-105 L, and a Canon 100-400 L.  Between the two, I can cover the range from 24 mm to 400 mm without fumbling around with a lot of lens changes.  I realize zoom lenses with long ranges come with an image quality trade-off, but the convenience of keeping my workflow simple in the field is worth it to me.  I would rather spend my valuable field time seeing, reacting, and shooting, rather than having to make a bunch of lens changes. And, in fact, I would guess that well over 90% of my images are made with the 24-105 L (and probably half of those at either 24 mm or 35 mm), so my workflow in the field really is straightforward.

Still, I do think the 100-400 is worth keeping around.  There are some situations where the reach really comes in handy.  This image, for example, likely would not have been possible with the 24-105.  It was made with the 100-400, at 400 mm.  This enabled me to: 1) shoot from across a busy highway; 2) isolate this pattern from its surroundings; and 3) create a very flattened perspective (due to the telephoto effect), accentuating the graphic aspects of the composition.

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The Other Colorado

Seven Cars and Twelve Tanks Eaton, Colorado, 2016

Seven Cars and Twelve Tanks
Eaton, Colorado, 2016

I’ve lived on the Front Range of Colorado for a number of years now.  When you mention Colorado to someone who doesn’t live here, my observation is that most people tend to think of pristine, snowy, mountain-filled landscapes.

I love that Colorado.  But there is another Colorado, too.  Roughly half the state is flat plains, having more in common with places like Kansas or Nebraska than Vail or Aspen.  That’s a Colorado worth knowing as well, equally compelling in its own way.

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