Maria Svarbova studied restoration and archaeology but found her voice as an artist when, six years ago, she took up photography. Her most recent series focuses on swimmers and swimming pools, capturing a cool detachment with an emphasis on space, composition, and color. Her models are expressionless mannequins, often wearing brightly colored suits and caps or situated against bright palettes. Svarbova’s photography explores how people occupy space: “People fascinate me. Space, to me, has no meaning without humans. It becomes empty, and something is missing. The same goes the other way around. Humans have no meaning without the space, as if they didn’t fit anywhere. The main focus of my series was to harmonize the humans and space.” As a contemporary artist her work has been featured in Vogue, The Guardian, and in numerous galleries, and she was most recently listed as a Forbes best 30 under 30. Her precociousness and distinct voice and style set her apart in the world of contemporary photography and reflect how attention to pattern, details, and shapes can create interesting narratives. Each picture is a haunting extension of the last, and all of them are memorable, powerful, and beautiful.
For more on Maria’s work, check out her website, here.
Similarly, World Photo Org also did a recent write up on her work and features many of her images in the interview they posted here.
Lastly, gratefully, Maria’s Instagram is active and stunning.
If your’e interested, Maria’s work is certainly an examination on pattern and symmetry. Check out our post on using shapes to enhance your photography and check out our pattern and symmetry gallery for inspiration.
The saying goes, there are two types of photography when taking pictures of people: candids and portraits. Portraiture is a classic photography genre and in the most general sense is a staged photograph of the subject’s face. Sometimes portraits encompass groups, sometimes the subject isn’t looking directly at the camera, and sometimes the picture is full body. There are a number of riffs and tangents on the category, but it is one of the most recognizable and widely used methods of photography. Self-portraits, family photos, pictures of friends, professional head shots: we’ve all taken a stab at portraits at one point or another. So what makes a good portrait stand out? In our portrait gallery, we’ve curated a group of technically and emotionally strong pictures that are excellent indicators of what makes a portrait special. Here, we’ll discuss the subject in a bit more detail.
The Human Element
Before we get technical, lets talk about the human element behind portraits. Steve McCurry says a good portrait says something about the human condition. That each picture of a person is capturing their humanity and we connect to portraits because the viewer sees something in the picture he sees in himself. He’s talking about connectivity, or the emotional core behind the picture. And this isn’t specific to portraiture. Capturing any picture that has true longevity and power means not only capturing the image, but the emotional moment behind the image. In this case, the “human factor” behind the portrait. People are such interesting individuals, with specific tastes, styles, and personalities. A good portrait should of course be technically strong, but above that it should aim to connect the viewer with the core elements of the person being photographed. This is that unteachable element of photography that comes with talent and time. A great portrait communicates volumes, and should aim to expose something special, but universal, about its subject. As Minor White once said: “All photographs are self-portraits.” Food for thought.
Related to connectivity is thinking about who your subject is and how comfortable they are being photographed. The word photogenic comes to mind and references the likelihood a person will appear attractive on film. Many photographers don’t believe in a person being photogenic, but rather, that the person feels a certain degree of comfort during a shoot and it is the photographer’s job to tease out a good photo. To make or encourage being photogenic. Whatever your take, it is important to consider the environment you are cultivating as the photographer and to do your best to encourage your subject’s willingness to reveal themselves to the camera. As world-famous photographer Brian Smith says: “Success at portrait photography is similar to being a good guest at a cocktail party—it helps to know a little bit about everything. You don’t have to be an expert; you just need to know enough to engage your subject.”
Craft and Technique
Entire technical articles have been written about how to take good portraits, but for the sake of ease, we’ve compiled a few favorite craft tips that serve as helpful reminders to anyone embarking on portrait photography.
Giving your photograph a sense of place offers a “where” to the “who” of your picture. Not only does it provide valuable context to the person, but it also can offer an interesting background and narrative to the portrait.
Light and Color
Technical elements aside, lighting and color drastically affect the mood of your picture, and thus, how it is interpreted by the viewer. Think about time of day, and the color exposure during editing and utilize these elements to enhance or support the goal of your portrait. Think also, about clothing choice and location. All of these supportive elements are important to a strong picture.
Black and White
Contrary to focusing on color, moving your portrait into black and white can provide interesting results. Volumes have been written on the use of black and white, but developing in black and white does generate a mood and climate to the photo that can help enhance what you are trying to capture.
Do not forget to check your white balance. The eye is amazing at spotting bad color balance, especially when it comes to skin tone. If your portrait is calling out yellow or blue in the skin of your subject, check that your white balance is accurate and immediately watch the quality of your portrait improve.
If eyes are the window to the soul, then as sure as your white balance needs to be correct, so should your photo capture and have clear eyes. No matter how wonderful the picture a portrait will suffer if the eyes aren’t clear or serving as the focal point to the picture. Experiment with this and be creative, but if the mood of your portraiture is suffering, think about eyes.
When shooting someone’s face, you’re translating a three dimensional image into two. As a result your image will flatten and some features will be called out more than others. It’s important to think about how camera lens, angle, and focal length will translate your subject’s features. Large chins, heavy brows, long and short noses: the combinations are endless, so you must adapt to feature your subject in the way that produces the most interesting portrait. Longer lenses cause facial elements to look more compressed, or flatter, making the face in the picture fuller and longer and dynamic features shorter and less pronounced. Also, an important rule of thumb to remember is that whatever is closest to the camera will be the largest. Think about this when asking your subject to angle his or her face. If you’re looking for specific camera tips for portrait photography, follow the link for tips on aperture, ISO, shutter speeds, and more.
It’s easy to get caught up photographing subjects that are classically beautiful. Colorful sunsets, a brand-new baby, the dew on a fresh spring flower — everyone loves pictures that capture or enhance attractive qualities, but there’s something to be said for photographs that might be described as ugly, desolate, or even scary. Pictures of trash heaps, a burned up forest — subjects that aren’t classically beautiful can be just as moving and poignant as a crystal clear ocean, and often, elicit more emotion. As famed photographer William Eggelsston said, “I am at war with the obvious.” In this series we examine the value, and subtle beauty, behind what most people would describe as ugly or mundane.
First, a bit of history: there might not be any photographer more well known for capturing the banal, the boring, and the ugly, as William Eggleston. His New York gallery show in 1976 was “the most hated show of the year,” as it featured work that viewers saw as having little to no value. But what Eggleston became known for (and what he was initially ostracized over) was capturing beauty and interest in pictures that others overlooked.
It’s difficult to extract meaning or significance from a bottle of ketchup on a diner counter, or a freezer stuffed to the gills with ice cream and old meats, but Eggleston’s revolutionary use of color and his eye for composition sparked a phenomenon in photography that forced viewers to look a little deeper. Eggleston’s work is uneasy, and could easily be described as dark, but what he brought to the field of photography was an invitation to see the significance — the beauty — behind the ugliness in our everyday lives. Suddenly, the ketchup bottle on the diner counter had a Ansel Adams like greatness, and it became obvious that the objects of our everyday lives — the food in our freezers — was filled with a richness and a significance that shouldn’t be ignored. He is the perfect example of taking an ugly image, and through composition, color, and context, giving it value and significance.
Whether your preference is to capture the gritty reality of a dirty city street or the undeniable grandeur of a beachside sunset, think about the emotional core of what you’re seeing and aim to capture that in your picture. It is in this way that Eggleston was able to elevate boring everyday subjects into the objects of our affection. Photography isn’t about seeing what is beautiful, but about capturing what is valuable about the subject. Think about the idea of an emotional core and the next time you see a plastic bag caught on tree branch or chewing gum stuck to your shoe, try to capture the power behind that moment, even if it is something that you’d initially describe as ugly or useless. There might be a powerful photo behind the moment.
For more inspiration, check out our gallery on the lost and the forgotten, an inspirational series of pictures on subjects that you might otherwise overlook.
Pattern and symmetry are effective anchors to a beautiful image. Ours eyes — and our imaginations — love to focus on repetition, balance, and consistency in art, as well as in nature. Using repetition or showcasing it in a photograph is an effective tool to capture something special about a moment or subject, especially a subject that may be easily overlooked. Such was the case with photographer Nikola Olic, who started recognizing patterns in buildings that generated abstract images when photographed. In a piece with WIRED Magazine, Olic describes an apartment building he spotted from the Brooklyn Bridge: “I was just staring at it, going ‘What do I do with that kind of building?’ ” The result was a series of photographs showcasing abstract art as the result of symmetry and pattern in everyday buildings. This idea of spotting beauty in objects you might otherwise overlook is a great example of how pattern and symmetry generate captivating images. Here are a few tips on how to make the most out of a dazzling pattern in your own photography.
Patterns Are Everywhere
As Olic discovered, patterns and symmetry appear everywhere, and are an awesome opportunity for a striking image. The side of a brick building, the fallen leaves in a pile in your yard, or the repeating lines of a wrought-iron gate — pattern is everywhere, you just have to look for it. Be intentional with what you’re trying to focus on in your photography and experiment with framing and composition that really capture the repeating nature of your subject.
One easy way to emphasize pattern is to fill your entire frame with repetition. This gives the viewer a sense of size and large numbers, even if what you are photographing is actually very small or ends just outside the frame. By emphasizing pattern, you are generating a larger repetition, and impact, in the mind’s eye.
Nothing emphasizes size or shape like a clever juxtaposition. When you compare the pattern of a flower petal or row of windows to another image, think about the ways in which that comparison allows symmetry and pattern to stand out. And be playful! Comparing two things allows you to have a sense of humor: something very small next to something very large. A bright burst of color, next to a black and gray facade. Take the featured image of this post, for example. By juxtaposing the sunny side of the building it enhances the sliver of color and the small shape of the angle of those windows in comparison to the shadows and flat light of the windows facing us. The result is playful, but somber. The light feels fleeting and special, and our eyes are able to see the repeating squares of the windows while embracing the moody atmosphere of a picture that might suggest a lack of sunlight or nature in an increasing concrete jungle.
Break It Up
Related to juxtaposition, is the idea of breaking up the pattern in your picture. Interrupting a flow or pattern immediately brings the eye to that moment in a photograph — it’s extremely effective — allowing the photographer control over where the strongest focus will be. Aligning this break with the rule of thirds, or another clever compositional element, is also very effective. Contrasting colors, or removing a repeating shape, is another way to draw attention to the pattern and symmetry you were so excited to capture.
Looking for more inspiration? Check out our gallery of pattern and symmetry photos.
Photography is a technical skill and with it comes a bevy of terms that can be intimidating to beginners. Photography terms often encompass a set of words that are intuitive to anyone with a good eye or interest in photography. But what about white balance, for example? White balance is a technical term explaining that our eyes balance color appropriately depending on the space, but cameras do not. A photograph taken in certain light won’t adjust the way our eyes do, often resulting in tones that look too yellow or too blue. We explain white balance in a little more detail later, but we’ve also broken down other basic photography vocabulary in easy-to-understand terms so no one is left in the dark.
You’ll hear this term a lot and in the most general sense aperture is the size of the opening lens. Aperture is analogous to a window: a large window, or large aperture, lets in a lot of light, and a small aperture lets in a little. Aperture helps determines how light or dark an image is, as well as how in or out of focus the subject is. Narrow apertures create sharp, detailed backgrounds, whereas wide apertures generate a more fluid or sometimes blurry background.
Another technical term that is important to know because you’ll see an “F” on almost every camera, which indicates the f-stop, and is a measure of aperture (see above). Common f numbers are: f/1.8, f/3.5, f/8, f/16, and so on. Think of the f-stop as a fraction. Therefore f/1.8 is much bigger than f/16. If someone tells you they want a large aperture (to let in a lot of light) your f-stop will be numbers like f/1.8. If they want a small aperture, your f-stop will be f/8 or f/10, for example. The “F” stands for focal length.
Keeping it technical. ISO is an indicator of how sensitive your camera is to light. A camera with an ISO of 3200 is very sensitive to light and allows you to get shots in lower light, for example. The trade off with high ISO’s, however, are shots that can appear grainy.
Depth of Field
Most pictures have a foreground and background. Depth of field refers to how much of your photo is in focus. Landscapes, for example, need to reflect a lot of detail and have a large depth of field, meaning a lot of the photo is in focus. Portraits on the other hand are notorious for shallow depth of fields, meaning the person’s face is in focus, but the background is likely creamy or blurry and intentionally out of focus.
Exposure is a qualifying term meant to describe how light or dark a photo is. Dark photos are considered underexposed, and light, or washed out photos, are considered overexposed. It can be subjective to the photographer how much exposure a photograph needs, and is often a qualifier that is applied during post-production of a photo, though exposure is also controlled by aperture during the shoot as well.
You know long exposure shots. They’re the ones of the night sky where stars create streaks overhead or the beams of cars seem to track through the photo. A long exposure means the shutter speed was slow and generally taken in lowlight. The photograph was exposed over a long period of time.
When a photographer chooses manual mode, she is selecting values of the photograph like aperture and shutter speed herself, rather than letting the camera do it automatically. This is usually done when the camera’s automatic choices are too rigid for the purposes of the session or the photographer wants to experiment with an out-of-the-box, or atypical exposure.
The noise in a photo tends to refer to the grain or pixilation that a camera catches in the details of the photograph. Images taken at high ISOs tend to have more noise.
White balance refers to how accurately a photo is reflecting color. Our eyes do this automatically, but a picture with poor white balance can sometimes look too blue or too yellow. There is a setting to readjust white balance on a camera, but it doesn’t always work. There are a number of ways to adjust this, but if you’re asking how strong your white balance is in a photo, a good test is to hold up the picture to a white piece of paper to see the “temperature” of the photo. Is it cool or warm? If so, you need to adjust. Here is an awesome (and short) tutorial about white balance.
Like dogs in hats. Seriously though, the number of subjects and interests that capture our imagination in photography are seemingly endless: animals, food, landscapes, clothing, objects, homes, or the night sky, for example. And there are effective tips and tricks for each subject matter and occasion. Here we list some of our favorite non-human photography subjects and with each, a helpful tip for capturing the perfect image.
Flowers in a vase, flowers in a field, a single flower pressed into a book. Floral photography is its own special skill, but one of our favorite tips for photographing flowers is to remember a shallow depth of field. Shallow depth of field is when part of your photograph is sharp and in focus and the rest is soft, or blurred. This is effective during a close-up shot and allows you to capture the subtle details in the flower without distracting the viewer with a busy background.
Man’s best friend is a favorite subject among professional and amateur photographers, and our phones and photo libraries are cluttered with images of our furry loved ones. To really maximize your animal photography, remember to focus on the animal’s eyes. Focusing on eyes brings an expressiveness and center to a photograph that can otherwise be vacant or lack power. The spirit of your dog, cat, or the lion on safari, can be difficult to capture. Making sure the eyes are in focus is one way to do so. (Another helpful animal-photography tip: give value to their character. Wait for a scenario or situation — it may be the frame of a window or a bird about to land in its nest — that helps capture what makes animals truly photographable. They’re such a special subject. Show us why!)
Shape + color. Photographing food is a chance to get creative. Food is such a familiar subject, so when photographing it, focus on shapes and colors to give the picture its special quality. Whether it’s pairing the browns in a chocolate chip cookie with a burst of blue berries or placing them on top of a colorful table cloth, showcasing food with colorful or pattern-filled contrasts helps our eye see it in a different way. A melon cut open in elegant half-moons or the pattern of a well-set table; think about shape and color when photographing food to elevate a familiar subject into something new.
Capturing the beauty of still life is a cornerstone of fine art as well as photography, and is a great way to practice your technical skills. Lighting, background, angle, and post-production, are all important aspects of a stunning still life shot, but today our tip for still life photography focuses on composition. Working with still life is the art of control: generally speaking you have full control over your subject matter because it is an inanimate object. In this way, you also have control over your composition, which means there are no excuses for a poor set up. Remember the basics: the rule of thirds, effective and non-distracting backgrounds, where you are leading the eye, framing, and the use of your negative space. It’s an awesome time to experiment and see what works. It will improve your eye for composition on other subjects as well.
You can spend an entire lifetime perfecting the skills for good landscape photography, but a tip that is often forgotten when choosing to photograph the outdoors is to think about movement. Landscapes are still because we are so often trying to capture long distances. But, if you’re finding a photograph seems stale or lacks interest, consider looking for ways to include movement in the picture: a rushing river, a burst of wind, or a flock of birds for example. Movement brings energy to an image, so the next time you’re photographing a picturesque hillside or town, think about elements of movement and watch your photos become more dynamic.
The staff at PURSUE PICTURES occasionally selects a photo and conducts a brief critique on its strengths and weaknesses. It’s a nice lesson in some of the technical aspects of photography, and a good way for new photographers to gauge their own work against others. Lets take a look at this fun and quirky beach scene and what makes this photo stand out from the crowd. This image stands out for a lot of reasons, and one of its main strengths is in the quirky nature of its subject matter. What on earth is a lounge chair doing on a beach cliff? Additionally, it’s color — and the bright colors of the cushions — add to the intrigue of the picture. Those colors juxtaposed with the bright blue of the ocean and sky, and the natural quality of the rocks, also contributes to the fun and playful nature of this photo. It has a Wes Anderson kind of feel and does an awesome job evoking a mood and energy to the viewer. It also does a nice job of identifying its subject: it’s front and center and there are no questions about what we are supposed to be focusing our attention on.
Focus and color quality are correct, though it might be nice to see the chair in less of a profile and more of a three-quarter point of view. Still, it’s likely this photographer set up the photo this way, so I’ll trust this was the best of his series.
Areas this picture could improve are in the distractions the middle and background of this piece. There is an unknown object in the upper right hand corner of this photo that should be removed if possible and the boat in the background creates a strong visual distraction for our eyes, especially because of its linear quality and that it follows the basic sightline of the rock. While this is a fun piece with a great sense of humor and a specific style, its strengths would be elevated with some careful considerations about distractions and composition.
Each of our open categories (People and Places, Photo of The Week, and our Annual 10k Award) are asking for specific images, but each of them have the same basic guidelines. If you’re interested in submitting, check out our SUBMIT page, for full details on how to enter, but take a look at our basic guidelines below for info on cameras (we accept all images, even those taken with smartphones), eligibility (you must be 18 years of age or older), and issues surrounding multiple submission (you may submit as many photos as you like).
Street Photography is a classic genre of photography that used to encompass mostly black and white images. The contemporary category now includes striking color photography that still primarily focus on random encounters and subjects who don’t know they’re being photographed, but has also broadened to include staged photos, urban landscapes, and don’t always include people. But, if you’re looking for a few tips before taking to the streets with your camera or iPhone, we’ve culled some of our favorites for capturing the best photographs that live on the streets.
There are conflicting schools of thought on asking for permission when embarking on a street photography shoot. Some photographers believe that asking for permission ruins or undermines the random nature of the genre, while others believe it’s respectful to let someone know their photo is being taken. We believe context is key and photographers should use their best judgement when photographing and capturing images of strangers. In some cases, the picture demands the subject not know they are being photographed and in others — when subjects are particularly vulnerable or being used for a specific narrative — it might be best. There is no hard and fast rule and both are just as effective.
Lens and Camera Setting
You gotta know. It may be tempting to use a telephoto lens in order to capture detail from afar, but the result is not only distance from the subject, but from the energy, essence, and spirit of the photo. And the DSLRs are always good choices, but can be big and clunky and not suitable for the snap and go style of street photography. Most successful street photographers use wide-angle lenses and smaller, compact cameras to shoot. This allows you intimacy with the subject and lets you blend into the environment. Vivian Maier was notorious for using a camera at hip-height as not to draw attention to herself while shooting.
Street Photography expert, Paul Bence suggests avoiding zoom since it forces you to a fixed focal length and improves your eye for composition.
Every street photographer discusses this and it’s elemental to a good street photograph. Get close. Ignore the awkwardness, shake off the discomfort, and get into your subject matter. Street Photography is about energy and emotion and it requires you to get in close to capture it.
See The Whole Picture
A lot of new street photographers get caught up in the subject of the photo — typically the person at its center. However, urban landscapes often have incredible backgrounds and juxtapositions that can elevate an ordinary photograph into something truly incredible. Irony, humor, tragedy: these narrative elements are often found in the positioning of a subject within its environment, so don’t forget the background, the light, and what you are trying to capture about the context of your photo.
Shoot What You Know
You don’t have to be traveling through the streets of Hong Kong or in an unfamiliar alley way in a city you don’t know to capture good street photography. Walk your neighborhood, visit your local coffee shop, and start looking for the interesting narratives in your everyday life. This will afford you the benefit of a lot of practice and the joy of uncovering a few hidden gems.
Don’t Obsess Over The Perfect Shot
Out of focus, rushed objects, a crowded frame – be open to what the camera gives you and explore the narrative of your photography as part of the process. You also have the benefit of increasing value in editing, so be open to the imperfect picture. Its beauty might surprise you.
PURSUE PICTURES is looking for the best photography in the following three categories: People and Places, and Photo of The Week. All submissions to our image-specific categories must be in by our deadline of August 31. Our People and Places category recognizes a winner ($2500 prize), runners up ($300 and $150), as well as honorable mentions. In addition to prizes, all winning photographers will be recognized in our PURSUE PICTURES gallery.