the third eye

framed [the olive tree was caught in the mirror of a frame shop]

Photography can perform many functions, from copying a document, to recording an event which is meant to be remembered sometime in the future. And it can be an art. Sometimes the most simple objective can turn out to be very difficult, if we haven’t yet learned how to perform the task. For instance, copying a painting. That is not a job for amateurs, if you want a good copy. You need proper lighting, the camera must be parallel to the material you are copying, and the lens should be a neutral lens which does not distort the picture you are taking, something within the category of a portrait lens, between 75mm to 110mm on a 35 mm camera. Now I don’t expect an amateur to understand what this is all about. But I will explain a few of the concepts important to photography, on the basis of this example.

youngsters with phone in hand

The lens is very important in understanding what the camera can do. What is called a ‘normal’ lens by photographers, is a lens that sees about as much as the human eyes see, when you’re looking at a scene in front of you. On a 35mm camera, this is usually a 55mm or 60mm lens. In the second half of the 20th century, the 35mm camera became the standard of photography. So much so, that even now when buying a digital camera, the effective range of the zoom lens is usually described as an equivalent of what it would do, were it attached to a 35mm camera. Traditionally, lenses had a fixed focus length, which meant that each lens had a particular angle of view. ‘Short’ lenses were short in physical appearance and were closest to the film or sensor when focused on infinity, and ‘long’ lenses looked long, and were held further from the film or the sensor. Short lenses had a wide view, and so were called wide angle lenses, and long lenses had a narrow view, and were called telephoto lenses. Today, most people use zoom lenses, which can imitate wide, normal, and long lenses, all with one lens. This sounds like a great advantage, but every camera and every lens has advantages and disadvantages. There are also disadvantages to zoom lenses.

Agripas str 3
a well protected man

The most pronounced disadvantage of a zoom lens, is that it allows less light to reach the film or sensor, which means that when you are taking a picture, you need more time to get a proper exposure. This is one of the reasons for blurred images. A lens that allows a lot of light to reach the sensor is called a ‘fast lens’. To understand what an exposure is, imagine that you are going to a faucet to fill a pail with water. You can open the faucet all the way, and then maybe there’ll be some rust or mud in the water. Or you can open it half way… or even just a little bit. If you open the faucet all the way, it will take the least amount of time to fill the bucket. If it is open just a bit, you will have to wait quite some time for the bucket to be filled. A proper exposure is like the bucket full of water. The faucet is the aperture. It is a set of leaves that make the opening of your lens smaller or bigger. The amount of time is called the shutter. It can be set to allow an exposure of a number of minutes, or to allow light to pass through the lens at only 1/4000 of a second. In some cameras you can set even a shorter period of time. Some cameras have a ‘B’ setting. The ‘B’ stands for bulb, which is what was used as a trigger many years ago. And this setting allows you to determine the length of the exposure manually.

light and shade

Your aperture has a number of setting which are called ‘stops’ in the world of photography. They determine how far the hole in the lens will be opened or closed. There are standard numbers like 4, 5.6, 8. 11, and 16. These numbers represent how many times the area of the lens can fit into the area of the sensor. As I told you last week, the higher the number, the greater the depth of field, that means that something close, and something far away can both be in focus. Some people prefer a shallow depth of field. I used to like shooting with an aperture of f1.4. This allowed me to shoot inside a closed room without using a flash or a tripod. Both the flash and the tripod can help you to shoot people inside, without shooting at a speed so slow that the shake of your hand might blur the picture. A tripod can allow you to take really long exposures. A flash can allow you to take really fast exposures.

a kiss

The problem with really long exposures, is that the light does not usually cover all of the spectrum, and then you will get strange colors in your pictures. One of the solutions to this problem is to shoot in black and white. An electronic flash will usually give you all of the colors of the spectrum that a human eye can see, but the light of the flash can be very brutal. It will give you the right amount of light at a certain distance. But nearer to the camera, there will be too much light, and further away from the camera there will be too little light. There is also another problem with flash. Head on flash lighting will often cause the subject to look flat. When taking pictures of people, I like the feeling of three dimensions. I want to see a little depth. If you have a sophisticated flash that can be aimed at the ceiling, the light that bounces back from the ceiling will fill the whole of a medium sized room. This will allow you to gain depth in your pictures, and if there are a number of people in the room, you will be able to see them all, and the lighting won’t be limited to a specific distance from the camera.

Jerusalem center
Jerusalem residence

On the subject of depth, this might be a good place to explain that long lenses tend to make things look flat, whereas wide lenses tend to increase and sometimes (if the angle is very wide) to exaggerate the depth. That is why wide lenses are not good for portraits. Because they cause distortions which detract from the look of the person you are photographing.

at the market place

In conclusion, today, I would like to discuss the amount of pictures that are taken. We know, that when using words, the most elegant writing is poetry. In using just a few words that represent the essence, without rambling on and on, we are able to offer the most striking thoughts and images. Some people think that because digital photography is almost free of cost, it is to their advantage to take a lot of pictures, and then choose the best, later. Unfortunately, they often swamp themselves in photographs and have a hard time separating the wheat from the chaff. And just as a person who is constantly talking is wearisome, the same is true of a person who is constantly photographing. If you love photography, you should have a sense of rhythm, and restraint when you photograph. You should be able to judge when the situation is right for photography, and not distract everyone around, people and other living creatures, by shooting too much. It will also help you to deal with the pictures when you study them on the computer.

Today’s illustrations were taken with the very simplest cameras, and were improved on the computer. You could get the same results with the camera on your telephone.


51 responses to “the third eye

  1. Thank you, Shimon; this is very helpful, but so much so that I’ll have to return a few times. The photographs are so rich with story; this is one of my favorite treats when I study your photographs. Wish you were my teacher, because it’s hard for me to learn unless my teacher is present and my camera in hand, but I appreciate the details that I can review. Thank you, again.

    • I am sure it would be great fum to photograph together, Catherine. I used to take my students out for field trips, and it was always a wonderful experience, and often included water colors as well. It is amazing what an adventure, learning can be. Thank you for your comment. And I have to say that I enjoy your photography very much.

  2. “the third eye” and the top photo reminds me of the photo that was placed on ebay by a woman wanting to sell a yellow dress. Only after she posted the photo online did she realise that her naked reflection was in the mirror next to the dress.

    • That just goes to show, GB, that sometimes the incidental can be a lot more effective in getting the message across, that the professional methodology. I’m sure she managed to sell her dress.

  3. Wonderful captured photographs… and your words so helpful, Thank you dear Shimon. Have a nice weekend, with my love, nia

    • Thank you very much for your kind words, Nia. Glad you liked the post. It’s a sunny day today, which is nice. We’ve had real winter weather recently. Best wishes to you too.

  4. Wonderful and informative post Shimon. Thank you.

  5. Thank you very much, Shimon…such useful, helpful information.

  6. And I’m sure you spit that all out without blinking. 🙂 Easy to tell you’ve had a camera in front of you for quite some time. Now…the pic labelled Jerusalem residence…there are a lot of what I think must be chimneys. They all look identical and I wonder why.
    Always enjoyable to read you. And…while I have a small portion of your undivided attention…how bout a Haiku on photography? I do NOT have that ability, but I’d bet you do. 🙂

    • Actually, those aren’t chimneys, Bob. They are water tanks. All of those houses have solar water heaters, and they include solar panels which are situated on the roof, and then the water tank right near them. It’s much cheaper than heating your water with electricity. As for haikus, that is one form of writing that I’ve never been able to get the hang of. Thank you very much for your comment.

  7. Well I doubt I would get the same images on my camera phone, or even on my camera…..Looking at these pics and learning about the processes you use makes me appreciate your pics all the more.
    Btw, I love that framed pic, and am really curious who that man is and why he needs body guards.

    I am beginning to understand a little more about photography, and as Catherine says, we need to save these posts and return after a session with our camera and see if there is any improvement. I also understand why my pics are blurry so often…..I fully intend to look into my settings now….

    I agree about people who photograph everything incessantly!

    Thanks Shimon, this is MOST helpful!xxxxx

    • Thank you very much for your kind words, Dina. There is so much to learn about photography, that a few of my pointers are not enough. But I was hoping that they would stimulate some of my readers to go to the books, and learn a bit about the methods. I plan to add one more post on the subject, though. I do hope it’s helpful.

  8. Another excellent article Shimon with some often very difficult concepts very clearly explained. I particularly liked your comments on restraint. When shooting film as a lad, it would cost a couple of weeks worth of pocket money to develop my 35mm film. Every shot had to count. I’ve been reminding myself of this only recently. Waiting for the shot you want, rather than taking a hundred in the hope the shot you want is in there somewhere, really does create a lot of work. Thank you for posting.

    • Yes, photography used to be quite expensive, Chillbrook. Those of us who worked with large format, used to get a kick out of how inexpensive it was to shoot with 35mm. But probably the greatest advantage to photography, is the training to really study your subject before shooting the picture. Unfortunately, some people depend too much on the device, and not enough on their own contemplation. Congratulations on your wonderful win. It really made me happy that your picture was chosen.

  9. This is all so helpful, practical and clear, and once more I enjoy your pictures, not only because of the subject matter, but because of the love with which they are shot. I needed some advice today. I have copied some pictures from some 30-year-old slides, and they are poor quality. I’ve used all the tools in my photo editing programme, but they don’t make much difference! I wanted a good photo for my son, who is 30 in a few days’ time. Ah well – next time I shall have to visit your school first, Shimon.

    • It does take a bit of experience to restore an old photo, Gill. There are some programs that work well, but if it wasn’t coming up in a few days, I would recommend that you went to a real photo studio to have the picture restored. In any case, my congratulations to the young man. And I am sure he will appreciate whatever he gets. Thank you for your kind comment, Gillyk.

  10. Thank you for your analogies, Shimon. They make a difficult subject much easier to understand. And your photos provide enjoyable examples.

  11. The first shot makes me think of a window into another world beyond

  12. interesting reflections on the use of the camera …
    She is a very sweet man … and a great observer.


  13. A wonderful lesson Shimon! You illustrated your points with such clarity. I begin teaching a dear young one photography over the next several months. Your illustrations I beg to borrow! I’m enjoying following this series of yours…thank you!

    • You’re always welcome to borrow anything from me, for the sake of learning and teaching. Nothing is more important, to my mind. And it should be great fun teaching a young student, Spree. I am sure that both of you will get some great pictures.

  14. orlando gustilo

    You’re always generous with what you share. Good post!

  15. Thank you for sharing this, Shimon. I have much to learn!

  16. I do like the top two photos very much.I don’t have depth vision nor very good vision at all,so I have t just take whatever image I am lucly enough to capture.But I can see how useful your articles could be.And even very amateur photography gives another w ay of looking at the world which has been very helpful to me…

    • Thank you, Vikingstar. I’ll never forget an ad I saw some years ago, after the invention of the autofocus mechanism on film cameras. There was a woman who told of winning a prize for her photography, and yet she was legally blind. I think that sometimes it’s very hard to know what others experience in this life… but there are so many possibilities… My best wishes to you.

  17. You are a wonderful teacher and your photos illustrated the setting in which you live. I would love to go on a walk with you camera in hand!

    • Thank you so much, Linda, for your kind words. I have always enjoyed being a student, and teaching is sort of an extension of the same occupation. I used to take field trips with my students, and these were always great adventures.

  18. Lovely shots, Shimon. As always your writing is engrossing. I’m off to take a few buckets of water.

  19. Our mention of the different lenses reminded me when we had a house for sale several years ago. The photographer used a wide-angle lens, thus when we saw our the picture of our family room online, we wondered where the extra space from the picture went. After all, a two-person couch seemed 8 feet long.

    By the way, my favorite picture here is the one of the residential houses.

    • Glad you enjoyed that picture, Frank. It is one of my personal favorites too. Yes, the choice of lens can really change the picture to a great degree. It is most critical when photographing a portrait, and I have known some nasty photographers who purposely used lenses to make a person look a little ridiculous (usually politicians). What you say about the wide lens is just why they are used, mostly, to give a sense of space to a small room…

  20. The photograps are not just a great example of your techniques but also any works of art show the personality and illustrate the inner life of the artist,,I believe

    • I agree with you, Kathryn, both crafts and art are very subjective, and the craftsman himself is always reflected in the work. It is a lot like handwriting, which used to be a way to get to know a person… now we have to be satisfied with printed letters on a computer screen. Thanks for your comment.

  21. Beautiful post as always Shimon 🙂

  22. there are a hundred definitions of poetry, but my favorite is my own. “poetry is to say as much as possible in as few words as possible, but to say it in a unique way.”

    as for photography, although i do not at all consider myself a beginner (only because i know all the terms, stops, numbers, etc) i still learned from what you explained. i knew the results of what you wrote about, but i didn’t know the “why” of what you wrote.

    if i’m driving a car and turn the steering wheel left, i know the car will turn left. however, to know “why” is a completely new experience.

    • Your example of the car, is something I always used to tell my students when they were starting out. Not about the why… but that when we’re first learning how to drive, we turn the wheel very carefully… and after we’ve driven for a while, we concentrate on where we’re going, and the whole car becomes an extension of ourselves. And that’s the way of a craftsman with tools. The tools become an extension of the man or woman. Always good to see you here, and to read your comments, Rich.

  23. Again, this is a good post. Thank you for the tutorial. I know a great deal more than I use, unfortunately. It’s only when I see the photographs that I remember what I should have done. The concept of the third eye is relevant to any discussion of photography, I think. I am not sure that anyone can learn to see. We enhance our ability to see with experience, contemplation and time, but I believe that ability is is dependent on who we are more than it is dependent on what we know. I especially like the “Light and Shade” photograph. But, I would, wouldn’t I?

    • I do believe that people learn to see much better when photographing. I’ve seen many people learn to focus their attention in a different way, and learn to appreciate things beyond ‘recognition’. As you said, experience and contemplation can enhance our abilities. Put that together with the willingness to fail, and experimentation… it is amazing, what we can reach. As a teacher, I found that talent was really significant for those who were willing to work. Those who try to make it on talent alone, don’t get that far. Thank you very much for your comment, George.

  24. you’ve created a very interesting, sometimes amusing gallery!
    my favorite:
    youngsters with phone in hand

    • That is a great compliment for me, Dietmar, for I value humor as the highest form of communication, and if I succeeded in amusing you, I am truly happy. Thanks.

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