March 17, 2016

Lessons from the Masters: Sam Abell

This book + this fabulous 2 hour lecture = GOLD.  Insightful, interesting stories about the creation (creative process) of images.  Sam Abell tells a good story.  And debunks a good many myths.  And learning about his process inspires me to be more intentional about my own process.  

Some notes from his lecture ...

re: Train photo, taken at age 14. Submitted to canon contest. Wanted to win whole shebang.  Instead won $15 honorable mention prize in junior category.  Only printed – in his basement darkroom, which was only truly dark at nighttime – 3 copies.  Just sold last print. 

Shoots full-frame [digital now] only, full uncropped image, aims for sooc-uncropped, just as he did when shooting analog.  Inspired by, of course, Henri Cartier Bresson.   Likes to shoot with two bodies, 1 with a 28mm lens, 1 with 90mm = his walkaround “kit”.  Uses 90% of time.  Shoots without flash.  Sometimes with tripod, usually without.

[Now iconic] Train picture of his dad – Dad gave him his rolleicord camera, told him to compose the picture and wait.  Recommended low angle, leading lines.  His dad also told him “bad weather makes good pictures.”  :-D

His dad taught him how to photograph.  His mom taught him what to photograph.

Composing from “the back” (the horizon, the environment, the geography), inhabiting “the front”, heads & shoulders belong above the horizon.  Student in Abell’s class summarizing main point [humorously]:  “nothing touches”.   (the “articulation of space”)

3’, 4’, 5’ of height makes everything look better (being able to get above your scene/subject)

Macro composition (all that’s in your frame, edge to edge, the whole enchilada) vs. micro composition (the specific articulation of space, compose & wait, NOTHING TOUCHES – ha!)

One of Abell’s defining features … a strong horizon line.  (ie in his window/kremlin photo, dropping out the kremlin background by rising higher, thus catching cement sill of building=strong dividing horizon line, and finally ending with strong window frame line as horizon, and bringing waving-in-the-wind curtain back in.   took 12 hours to create final image)

OMGosh!!!  Sam Abell shoots Canon full-frame in “P” mode with +/- wheel.  Uses lcd on back to determine if he’s happy with image AS IS (no plans to photoshop).  He then laughs and says Canon doesn’t want him to tell people this.

Internal framing goal:  linking still life to landscape

Compose (the “macro” part:  looking edge to edge, whole setting, back to front, separation of layers,  internal framing?, looking thru surfaces?). Wait. (for a blue umbrella, a dog & Frisbee, a bison, wind on albino peacock feathers, a horse whinnying …).  Adjust (the “micro” part: a gesture, expression, lining everything up, and as one student summarized: NOTHING TOUCHES).   Shooting on “P”.  Not cropping.  Not using Photoshop.  Sam calls this a church of photography – one where very, very few people are in the pews, and he’s afraid to turn around and look lest he finds he’s the only one in the pews.

Not from the book or lecture, but a recent shift in focus....
His epiphany, resulting in his current project:


Rebeckah Leatherman said...

Completely intrigued by this artist. Thank you for sharing, Skeller.

Tracy P. said...

Susan, I'm intrigued by your attention to his shooting in "P" mode. I can't imagine you going there, but I'm mildly amused by the thought. ;-) For some reason I never realized until recently, by accident, that you can use auto ISO with +/- in manual. I can't imagine how many times that would have saved my life. But it's going to save my life lots of times from here on out, so I am glad for the discovery.

I stumbled upon this post today and it occurred to me that you are a likely candidate to venture out into mirrorless one of these days. I'm looking forward to that. :-) Whether you do or don't, I appreciate the way you are constantly growing and sharing what you learn.