Things I’ve learned: Calm Photos

The advent of high quality digital photography has allowed photographers to capture scenes that would be nearly impossible with film in the past. By combining different exposures, and using various ISO settings, photographers are able to create idealized photos of very dynamic scenes. These photos are often awe inspiring when shared on photo forums.

This past September, I shared several new prints at ArtWalk on the Bay — a leading art event in San Diego. While setting up my booth, I made an observation about my work. All of my images are calm. They reflect a quiet moment — one of contemplation, and serenity. Even my most dynamic photo — a seascape taken in La Jolla, has a calm hush to it.

When printed large and hung on a wall, a calm photo will add to the ambiance of a room. It serves as a reassuring breath of fresh air.

Conversely, a ultra dynamic photo has the opposite effect when hung on a wall. This visual noise of the image dominates the room, overpowering the decor. An image that stands out in a photography forum because of its dynamic appeal may be the worst when hung on a wall.

Regardless if you are shooting film or digital, the experience of viewing a print is much different than viewing online. An print doesn’t need to SCREAM AT THE VIEWER to be good.

Yesterday, I hung two new photos in my house. A framed 20″x 25″ print of  Approaching Storm now sits above the couch in my living room, and a framed 20″x 25″ of Thermal Spring now hangs over my mantle. These two photos changed the overall feel of the room. A calm, reassuring feeling now prevails.

9 Responses to “Things I’ve learned: Calm Photos”

  1. bob Says:

    very true, now you have to take other sean’s to round out your life as a photographer. I know it will be great what ever you decide to do.

  2. john salgado Says:

    Great post Ben, something about printing one’s images makes it feel as if you have completed the process, giving life to your vision.

    • Ben Horne Says:

      I definitely love the process of making a print. It provides a satisfying end-point to the journey of that image. That’s the thing I love about photography, there is often a defined beginning, middle, and end.

  3. Nicolas Belokurov Says:

    IMO, it all has to do with focal distances. Just check for yourself the lenses most used by the most popular photogs on the landscape sharing forums- between 14 and 24mm. From the compositional point of view, the options with an UWA are quite limited, so almost every big internet hit is about a branch or a flower on the FG and some thermonuclear sunset/sunrise on the BG. I don’t have anything against these shots, in fact I’ve done quite a few of them and enjoy creating them from time to time, but what “focals” used the classical landscape painters? Normal and short tele and that’s what the folks over in Louvre hang on the walls.
    Large format, due to the technical issues related to focusing and movements tend to be very user friendly with longer focals- 150mm, 210mm, 240mm and so on. And that fact itself perhaps leads to a more contemplative and compact approach.
    It’s curious how, on forums, a “landscape lens” is always mistaken with am UWA.
    Anyway, the same, non dramatic approach can be used with digital, I just came back from a short trek, the light was too harsh for my BW 4×5 and I spent several hours just playing with comps using a 5d2 and a 50mm manual lens, it’s amazing how “largeformatish” it felt 🙂

    • Ben Horne Says:

      You’re right — it’s definitely the ultra wide angle shots that give the super dynamic shots of an exaggerated foreground and all-encompassing background. Those images certainly have a strong appeal, but they also have a tendency to scream at the viewer. Often times, less is more. A longer length, as you have mentioned, allows you to concentrate on the subject, and provide a peaceful, calm image.

      Though the wide angle on my 8×10 and 4×5 are quite wide — they are nothing like the 14mm range on a 35mm camera. I do find myself reaching more for my normal lenses lately. That is also how I have learned to “see” the subject.

  4. Christopher Maun Says:

    A well made point, Ben. I certainly have an affinity for the more calm end of the spectrum, myself. Nice choice on the new prints, btw. Those are two of my favorites from your portfolio!

    • Ben Horne Says:

      Thanks for the kind words! In the past, I have avoided hanging my own work in my house because I didn’t want to get tired of viewing it all the time, but I’ve changed my mind on that. Of the two prints I hung in my living room, I find myself looking at them quite a bit, which inspires me to go take some more shots. 🙂

  5. Jose Suro Says:

    Very true Ben! In reviewing my own large format prints they all seem to have a very quite feel to them, almost on the melancholic side. And, my most used lens on my 4×5 is the “normal” 150, followed by my 210. Very rarely do I grab for my 80 or 350.

    The funny thing is that having come back to film from digital DSLR’s when I first went to 4×5 my first lens purchase was the 80mm, thinking I shot mostly wide wide in 35mm. Now I know how wrong I was!



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