Sponsored Tip: Developing A Personal Style: Time

Photography and time are intrinsically connected
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This tip article by Brian Dilg, comes to us courtesy of New York Film Academy Photography School, where he serves as the Chair of the New York Film Academy Photography Conservatory. Dilg is an internationally published and collected photographer and award-winning filmmaker with over 20 years of professional teaching experience around the world.

Photography and time are intrinsically connected. Photography has the curious property of breaking our continuous, unbroken experience of time into discrete chunks, allowing us to stop the unceasing passage of time to gaze forever at a preserved moment.

A single image can freeze a brief moment forever, a "snapshot" of a motion as familiar as a boy splashing through a puddle on his scooter (shot at 1/8000th of a second and f1.4). It can also go much further, and reveal events that are so short that we cannot perceive them without the aid of photography, such as Harold Edgerton's ground-breaking images of a bullet bursting balloons, or a droplet of milk creating a coronet-shaped splash.

Figure 1© copyright 2012 Brian Dilg Photography LLC. All rights reserved.

Michael Wesely has made time his subject in images made over astonishingly long periods of time, from the life span of flowers in a vase to the three year construction of the new Museum of Modern Art in New York – single three-year exposures! Even the use of a slightly extended shutter speed (beyond the conventional wisdom of avoiding speeds too slow to hand-hold) can produce unexpected and beautiful results. Take a look at Richard Avedon's iconic B&W portraits of Louis Armstrong and Malcolm X.

Landscape photographer Michael Kenna specializes in long exposures, often shot at night. Images like his photo of Toliman Volcano in Guatemala in 2003 reveal the motion of the earth through the star trails, and the moving water takes on a vague, fog-like appearance.

I hope that if you haven't already, that you'll spend some time experimenting with how varying your shutter speed beyond the idea of instaneity, especially when elements of your image are moving, will reveal beautiful and unexpected results. However, the aesthetic surface appearances of a variable shutter speed are just the tip of the iceberg.

Time is arguably one of the most inescapable elements of the photographic medium. One of the ways that I encourage students to think about enriching the viewer's experience of their work is to create images that suggest what might have happened before the moment of exposure, and what might happen next.

Figure 2© copyright 2012 Brian Dilg Photography LLC. All rights reserved.

This cell phone snapshot of a hungry pelican sneaking up on a fisherman's catch suggests a forthcoming surprise for at least one of the people in the frame.

Lorrie McClanahan's masterful, dry photograph of a cleaning man marching across a spotless plaza makes me laugh every time I see it, suggesting a frightening level of past efficiency, and a mysterious intention: does his determined march towards the sculpted hedge suggest, having run out of loose leaves to blow around, he has designs on foliage he suspects may be polluting his pavement the moment he turns his back?

Pentti Sammallahti's iconic image of street cats lined up on a dock in Iceland in 1980 uses the visual space between them and rows of tantalizing fish hanging above them to create a timeless image in which we can't help but wonder if anyone will take pity on them and unfreeze this moment of longing.

Figure 3© copyright 2011 Lorrie McClanahan. Some rights reserved.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the most powerful tool available to any photographer is not a piece of equipment or software: it is the imagination of the viewer. The more story you can suggest in a single frame, the more richly the viewer's imagination can get involved, and the more rewarding the viewing experience, no matter how many times the image is viewed. The image trancends the time and space in which it was made.

© copyright 2013 Brian Dilg Photography LLC.

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