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Family Photos_Snapshots or Art?

As most of you will know I spent a lot of December working as stills photographer on the Australian motion picture film Summer Coda. Most of the film is set in and around Mildura in far northwest Victoria. The film was somewhat of a family project with my nephew, Richard Gray, writing and directing the project. Richard’s wife, Michele Davies, was responsible for continuity and dialogue.

Towards the end of the project Richards family: his mum Maree, sister Rachel, their partners Trevor and Dean, and brother Pat spent a few days in Mildura. On a rare day off for me we all crossed the border into NSW and visited Trentham Estate, a vineyard, for a lovely lunch after which I took Rachel, Dean and Pat down the Silver City Highway, past Wentworth where the famous Murray and Darling rivers meet, and out to the Perry Sand Dunes.

Canon 5D Mark II camera and Canon 24-105mm f4 L series USM lens @ 45mm. Exposure Details: 1/200 second @ f11 ISO 400.

The above image features, from left to right, Rachel, Dean and Pat on top of the first dune surveying the surrounds. I love the warm colors provided by the late afternoon sun and the way they contrast with the blue of the sky. The shape and texture of the dunes are important design elements, although they’re somewhat diminished by the footprints, particularly on the right side of the frame. Here’s an important point to remember, if you’re looking for a portfolio standard image be sure not to walk into the frame. Occasionally your footprints can add a narrative element to the image, but usually they become a messy visual distraction.

The dunes themselves are actually quite small. You can gain a good overview of them by driving out to the second car park and, after about 1 minute of exertion, cresting the first dune.

We arrived late afternoon. It was hot, but the light Iooked very promising. I would have been happy to wait an extra hour or so and photograph at sunset and dusk, but I had to get the family back to Mildura to see the rushes (a rough cut of important scenes filmed throughout the week) with Richard, Michele and other members of the crew. So our visit to the dunes was probably no more than 20 minutes, not including the extra 20 minutes Dean spent trying to help a bunch of folks move their car that, somewhat miraculously they’d succeeded in bogging in soft sand at the very entrance to the car park. In the end, with plenty of other folk around to help, we got out (I have a 4-wheel drive) via a back track. The lesson is if you decide to visit the Perry Sand Dunes a low to the ground, hotted up car may not be the best option.

Canon 5D Mark II camera and Canon 24-105mm f4 L series USM lens @ 32mm. Exposure Details: 1/250 second @ f 11 ISO 400.

The second image features Pat at the dunes. I tried to echo the strong shape of his shadow, cast by the low angle of the late afternoon sun, with the V shape of two intersecting dunes on the right of the image. In this case I believe the warm tone black-and-white rendering and the relatively deep (dark) tones present in the background add a powerful mood that contrasts with Pat’s always happy and positive nature. I feel this duality (the contrast between the two) to be what lifts an image like this from a snapshot towards art, where the intention of the maker (the artist) goes beyond producing a pleasing likeness of the subject. In this case I think I have both, which should keep both the family and me happy.

I’m not saying that I’ve created great art with this picture. What I’m trying to outline is something of the process by which an artist makes art. There are things that need to be considered whenever a painting, a musical score or photograph is produced. Subject (theme or story), technique, design, tonality, color and meaning always need to be considered. If you fail with the first 5 the result will be a poor image. But if the image lacks meaning, either in your eyes or those of the viewer, then it will remain a snapshot. Ultimately it’s for all of you to decide whether you like the picture or not, and whether you’d describe it as a holiday snap or something more. I’d be very interested in your thoughts and comments.

Image processing was conducted in Adobe Lightroom 2 and Adobe Photoshop CS4.

© Copyright All Rights Reserved

Glenn Guy, Blue Sky Photography

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