Relating Organic and Geometric Forms

Vineyards offer an excellent opportunity to think abstractly about the organic forms of the landscape, and the geometric forms of the vine rows layered on top of that landscape. The patterns that result from this contract can produce very satisfying photographs. The first image below uses the organic landscape forms as big, powerful curves at the skyline. Below them the geometry of the vines takes over, creating patterns within patterns form the rows and the individual vine locations. Free-standing California Zinfindel vines are excellent for this type of image, as they do not have the heavy hardware involved in trellising most vines in America.

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The following image includes more factors, making the organic/geometric relationship less obvious. Here there is the symmetry of the hill behind, and the tree trees just in front of it. Yet the straight lines of the rows of vines and the pattens the tiller has left in the open ground still add relationships and texture to the overall image. The less hardware-intensive methods used to trellis vines in Tuscany make this image cleaner and less distracted than a similar image would be in California.

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C. David Tobie

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Death as a Photo Theme

Death has been an artistic theme for millennia. A stroll through an old cemetery will produce a number of death-related themes, including that odd mix of a skull and angel wings called a death head, weeping willow trees, more symbolic of mourning than death itself, and the occasional “cut down in his prime” gravestone carved in the form of a tree stump with its branches cut off.

While such themes are not appropriate for condolence cards, they do have a powerful psychological value that makes such images useful for illustrating death-related themes and articles. The orchard of white stumps in the image below can have a ghastly effect on some viewers, with its references to death and even to the battlefield. But it also has notes of life in the yellow mustard blooming between the rows, and the shoots attempting to grow on the stumps.

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The next image, below, is a less ambiguous image of death. The less-majestic-than-usual Tuscan field adds a lyric backdrop without detracting from the main theme, and even the colors are less dramatic then typically seen in Tuscany.

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But perhaps its possible to take the image theme a level further. Below is the same image converted to black and white. No brilliant blue sky, no greens below. While this version reduces the impact of the tree’s actual shades of gray, it does create an even more sober result. You decide which mood you prefer: death amidst color, or death in black and white.

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C. David Tobie

Tide Pool Macros

Tidal pools are a wonderful source of material for shooting macro photos. They offer life, texture, color, and mystery. Such shots can occur above, or below, the waterline. Often it is possible to shoot underwater images without an underwater camera or housing in tide pools, since they are very shallow, with a smooth surface. In other cases, the distortions of the water movement can add interesting effects to the images. The first image below is all about detail and color, with the amazing pearl-strand-like details on the purple and orange starfish. The second image has a smoother, dreamier quality, created by the surface of the water, which is relatively flat above the anemone, but more distorted in other areas of the image.

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C. David Tobie

Local Color as an Emotional Key

Color is something the human eye reads in many ways. One of those ways is as memory colors, the color of our childhood holidays, of the sky in our favorite location, or other emotionally linked memories. When a color stands out, consider its memory color value to your audience. Anyone who has experienced the vivid cranberry color of blueberry barrens or cranberry bogs in the fall will instantly recognize that tone in a landscape. Similarly, the unique orange tone of the seashore lichen shown below will tell viewers in England, New England, and the other coastal locations where it grows, that this is a shot from near the ocean, be it on a gravestone, or a natural outcropping.

Designers looking to trigger these local memory colors will be happy to find your images including them, if they are tagged in a way that makes them visible when making location-oriented searches.

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C. David Tobie

Heroic Shots of Small Subjects

Sometimes the hero shot is the right answer, even when it does not seem to be the likely question. In this instance, a clean, simple image, without background elements, (as tempting as ocean backgrounds can be) produces a more focussed image, with a clearer composition. The low angle of the shot, taken crouched and kneeling, cleans up the background, but also produces the classic heroic image. While dune grass surviving the winter and a short section of dune fencing may not be a monumental subject matter, treating it as one gets the viewer to look at it in a new way.

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C. David Tobie

Chasing an Archetype

Archetypes are those essential elements that we keep going back to. We create variations, combinations, and reworks of them. They are what speaks to us, and our viewers, in many of our images. We hone them, until they speak more loudly, and more clearly, and make our voices heard.

This series of images is based on a “lone tree” archetype. That of a single oak tree, on a ridge, silhouetted against the sky, above the wheat field it is rooted in. The question is always whether the shots are really about the tree, or the wheat field. Returning time and again over the years to the same locations, one in Tuscany, one in Paso Robles, has produced this ongoing series of the same motif, in different seasons, on different continents.  First green, full green, mature golden wheat, rowed stubble, tilled earth. And the tree, in leaf, and bare branched. The sky, weaker or brighter blue with the season. You decide which shot comes closest to capturing the archetype; or whether the series is more important than the individual images.

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C. David Tobie

Off-Axis Symmetry

Some objects, particularly architecture and flowers, are so powerfully symmetrical that their geometry shines through even without centering on it. Try shooting such images from an angle, or off center, to create a more dynamic balance.  Here, the angled view shows both the geometry of the flower, and the arc of the petals, while the offset location adjusts for that angle, at the same time creating a balanced image.

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C. David Tobie