This section is from the book "Complete Self-Instructing Library Of Practical Photography", by J. B. Schriever. Also available from Amazon: Complete Self-Instructing Library Of Practical Photography.
In "Winter in the Country," by Sweet Brothers, we have a landscape in which the dominant interest is snow. Its soft white texture is emphasized by the inky blackness of the water which, by a graceful sweep of line, carries the eye into the picture to the principal point of interest. The interest here is centered in an old house set in a group of bare trees, every branch and twig of which is silhouetted up against the winter's sky. The sky is hazy and the diffused focus effect upon the house produces the effect of distance and atmosphere. True tone values often are the making of any picture and it used to be charged against photography that it was unable to render tone values truthfully; but in this landscape we really feel the quality of the snow. There is no flatness or monotony, but an agreeable alternating of light and shade that gives relief and contrast to the whole picture. Indeed it is very interesting and attractive, not only as a whole but also when analyzed into its component parts. The materials are of the simplest and it furnishes an object lesson of much real value as to the right use of material and to the correct application of the primary elements of composition. One feels that in less skilful hands this material might prove to be almost inadequate as regards the possibilities of picture making. As it stands it is an excellent rendering of an aspect of nature by photography.
In the picture entitled "Fairy Tales," by E. J. Sanderson, Study No. 14, we have an idea well expressed and an excellent example of a group picture in the open sunlight.
The absorbing interest of the young in fairy tales is well known, and this picture expresses this idea. It is not a landscape study with figures, but a study of figures with a landscape for a setting. Where the landscape is the primary motive of the picture the figures naturally should be subordinate. But in a picture like this, where the figures form the central point of interest, the relative importance of the landscape is reversed. It occupies a subordinate place in the composition and emphasis is rather given to pose, lighting and action of the figures than to the landscape. If their pose is faulty, or the grouping weak, or the lines of the composition bad, the picture is a failure. In this instance, however, the pose is easy, natural, and without affectation. The line arrangement and the grouping are good. The principal figure was first chosen by the artist and placed to the right of the center, and the remaining figures were seated in such a way that they did not interfere with the principal figures, yet were held together well in the group. It is quite a problem to compass the arranging of forms or figures in a given space. First of all, the figures should not be all of one size. There can be no interest where everything is of equal importance. There should be a variety. Contrast is always a valuable quality in art. Yet we should avoid the vulgarity of extreme contrast as well as uniformity. A mother and child are always good subjects. In this picture the two larger girls lend contrast to and balance the children. Then too, there is variety of pose in the figures that is pleasing. Moreover, in every well balanced group picture, there is some one link in the invisible chain that holds the members of the group together. The bond of interest here is the reader. One of the chief difficulties in a picture of this kind is to get rid of the idea that the figures are posing to be photographed. In this instance the photographer has caught a group of interested listeners, and that is what appeals to our sympathy. In any group, too much action is always confusing. One person may be doing something, while the others are passive observers or listeners. Again, one of the common faults in pictures of this kind is the crowding of too many figures into the scene. No figure should be introduced unless it serves a definite purpose, and the artist should always have a reason for including it. Finally, strong sunlight with great contrast of light and shade usually gives harsh results, while what we should aim for is a soft negative with plenty of gradation and half-tone in it. We have here a picture made in soft sunlight and the different effects of light are due to the varying positions of the source of light in relation to the figures. There is good modeling and detail with gradation in the shadow portion of the negative. (See Page 139.)
The natural background here is simple and well chosen. It is out of focus so as to give relief and emphasis and not to attract attention from the principal interest of the picture; and it is also in harmony with the character and occupation of the figures. A more brilliant background would not allow the figures to come so well to the front of the picture. This is something always to be considered in a picture, and is of equal importance with figure posing and lighting.
Study No. 16, "Street in Old Japan." This picture is a study in simplicity both in choice of subject and arrangement. The structural lines of the photograph, defined by the roadway, lead the eye naturally into the picture and give it a good perspective. The central point of interest is, of course, the bend in the roadway, which by its concentrated patch of highlight fixes the attention and holds the interest of the beholder. This highlight is emphasized by the figure coming down the street which lends a bit of human interest to the scene. The lengthening out of the mount heightens the effect and stretches out the roadway very materially. While the technical quality of all this, including the lighting, is good, one may well question the wisdom of spreading out the foreground as it appears in the picture. On the whole, however, its chief charm is its extreme simplicity, its unity and breadth of treatment. (See Page 145.)
Study No. 8, "The Day is Far Spent," by C. F. Clark. III - 25
This picture shows much good taste and feeling for pictorial work. The beautiful photographic work here is largely the result of light and shade well distributed, giving breadth and interest to the picture. The highlight is in the sky and the water repeats this by reflection, while the strongest dark is in the solid patch of trees and foliage that lies between. The dark preponderating over the light gives a certain vigor and brilliancy to the composition. There is good perspective, too, and a suggestion of atmosphere from the clouds and from the ripple on the water. The horizon line is well below the middle of the picture and it exemplifies contrast, breadth, simplicity and unity. (See Page 71.)