Thinking like a photographer: When observation is more important than software
My journey into photographySeveral years ago, before I got involved in the CG industry, I really wanted to be a photographer. I got obsessed with the techniques and even went so far as to develop my own pictures in a “guerilla dark room” at home. I bought used equipment to practice and read every article, book or tutorial related to cameras and lenses. Learning photography is more than learning techniques. It’s learning a whole new language, complete with its own terms and rules. Looking back, I’m very glad to have learned these rules at a very early age in life and being able to understand them in a more organic and natural way. Some of the key terms you should know are depth of field, lenses, shutter speed and ISO. More importantly, though, is understanding how they all play together. Or, the rules. Knowing these will help you get a sense of how an image should look when it’s correct. When I started getting into the CG industry, I was able to use my knowledge of photography to control the final output of the virtual camera. Once I figured out the technical part of photography, I started to learn some of the more complex artistic processes. To do this, I began to watch different photographers work. I’d spend several hours a day just figuring out what they were doing and how they were doing it. For example, I’d look at the direction of the light, the softness of the shadows, the temperature and color of the images and I was extremely critical with what I was seeing. Since I already knew the rules of photography, I was able to focus on how they achieved the artistic side. Over time, I started to understand the decision process behind different styles and the ideas that went into every picture. Getting into the habit of observation is probably the most important part of becoming a CG lighter. You have to use your eye, train your sight and build criteria. When I work on my shots, I’ll constantly refer back to what I’ve learned about photography and use it to justify my decisions. In other words, I prefer to work with my eyes and my brain rather than working with my hands and my software. One of the first things you have to know when you work with any CG shot is that your audience is going to look at your final image as if it were a taken by a camera. This concept is imperative because if you do anything to ruin that illusion your final work will be unpleasant to them, and for the same reason, it won’t be successful. Your job is to keep the illusion and to create images that are as appealing as they are believable.
My three-step approach to lightingWhen I’m blocking out lighting, I have an analytical process that helps me understand how my image has to work. Really, it’s just a simple exercise to explain how you can think like a photographer instead of being caught in between of a bunch of technical terms. This process is based on three main steps, and of course, in the basics of photography.
- Light direction and shadow softness
- Light exposure and temperature (color)
- Contrast and saturation