The Four Things

Penn Croft Alpacas
Penn Croft Alpacas

Ming Thein is a professional photographer extraordinaire, an Oxford graduate (at 16), a physicist, and a man that takes his craft very seriously. One of his many useful and practical theories is something he calls the four things.

He says; “There are four things to consider in making an image that works: light, subject, composition and the idea.” So this is how I saw the four things yesterday at the Penn Croft Alpaca farm in Lancaster.

The light was pretty good, bright but cloudy which is perfect for photographing white animals. The subject was Alpacas, those cartoon like creatures that can bring a smile to the face of an ax murderer. Composition was tricky, because I wanted a group shot with them all facing the same way. And the idea was to take a decent photo of alpacas on a cloudy day in a group.

It began well and they seemed much friendlier than usual, many shots were taken and most were well composed and sharp, but somewhat boring. Then something exciting started happening with their friends on the other side of the fence. Either an orgy or a fight, it was hard to tell, but they all went over and watched. A few more photos were shot and I knew I had what I wanted.

So does considering the four things make an image that works? Maybe. For my next experiment I will explore composition considering the rule of thirds, the golden ratio, diagonal lines and the golden spiral. Or I can just go out and take pictures.

How To Save a Bad Photo

Save Me!
Save Me!

There are as many ways to save a bad photo as there are ways to scale a fish. If you’re shooting RAW, you can play with the file in Lightroom, Photoshop, HDR software or all three in whatever sequence floats your boat. Of course you can do this with a JPEG as well but let’s not get into that.

Then, if you’re not satisfied with the results you can very easily use a Photoshop filter for creative and/or possibly artistic results. Amaze your friends and family and insist that this was your plan the whole time. But deep down inside you’ll know the real truth. But what is the truth?

There is a very famous poem written by the third patriarch of Zen, Seng-ts’an, called the Hsin-Hsin Ming. In this poem Seng-ts’an writes these lines: “Do not seek the truth; only cease to cherish opinions.”

In terms of photography this means either nothing or everything. The truth in this case, is that you took a photo that didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to. Life goes on, but wait…

At this point you’ve not only tried converting to black and white but you did it in a thousand different ways. There is actually a book called From Oz to Kansas: Almost Every Black and White Conversion Technique Known to Man. I browsed through it once in Barnes & Noble and almost had to call my therapist.

The best technique to save a bad photo is to convince yourself that it’s not really a bad photo. No one besides you is going to zoom in on the original at 100% (or more), study the histogram, or hit the O key in Lightroom to cycle through different grid options like the rule of thirds, the golden ratio and the golden spiral.

I photographed this Alpaca at a farm near Poole Forge on a cloudy day. The light was bad, he was far away, and my composition was terrible. I convinced myself that despite everything it’s not really a bad photo (after cropping and B&W conversion). Despite the fact that he spit a mouthful of chewed up grass and hit me right in the face from 15 feet away, I consider the afternoon and photo memorable if not perfect. Adorable isn’t he?

Al Paca
Al Paca