A Tale Of Three Photographs

Nope - not of two cities. I wish I could somehow make that title work for today's topic. Maybe some other day. I'm going to change it up a bit and discuss a little bit more touchy feely kind of thing today rather than my mix of semi-tech, semi-craft, and stealthy subtext of a more philosophical nature. This is going to be mostly about photographing people but there's some other stuff mixed in for those that like to shoot scenes devoid of human life.

Today's fodder for discussion are obviously the three photographs at the top. Never would I present these three photos together all mashed up against each other at the same identical size. It makes them kind of freaky looking like a loud patterned shirt. For the purposes of this discussion it is illustrative almost freakishly so considering I didn't do this with intent. I was shooting for the simulating sunlight guide but this happened. Don't think I used any of these particular shots.

Three shots, same parson, same framing, same composition, same light. In fact these three are back to back check out the file names. Blah-blah_6000.6001, and 6002. I do have to say if I am nothing else I am amazingly consistent considering these are hand held. I guess that's somethin'… More to the point These are the only 3 full length shots I made. Less than a minute. Actually 2:12:37 to 2:12:42 - do the math.

Could each of these be more different? I guess so but each has an amazingly different feel. Facial expression? Not really - that's not what's going on. It's all gesture - body language. I talk about that all the time in the context of making pictures of people. This is a gross example of what I mean and why it's important. Keep that in mind for a second - we'll get back to that.

For a completely different change of pace let's switch to story telling. Means different things to different people - stories unless blatantly obvious (like porn) are subject to various degrees of view interpretation some more, some less. I am a fan of subtext - hence Hemingway is one of my favs. Visual storytelling is in someways even more subject to interpretation and no matter what you do there's a story in the images you make up. Real or imagined. Designed or accidental. You have an amazing amount of influence on manipulating that story and influencing to various degrees how your viewer sees it. Somethings you do in terms of "set-up" are going to be obvious some not so obvious but can be just as powerful. Now file that away as well for a second… we'll come back to that as well.

Last let's talk about depth, framing, viewpoint, and composition which are all somewhat tangible things that are all intertwined in most photographers minds. Would these images have more or less "depth" if I chose to use only the white wall as a backdrop? Probably a lot less - they would flatten out. How about a longer lens and backed up? Ummm iffy - if I included the same framing and composition it would probably be about the same. If I was using just the wall then it would probably flatten out even further. Not good or bad - just choice.

That depth, framing choice, viewpoint, etc stuff was probably what you expected me to talk about. All very important stuff for sure but I wanted to introduce or maybe re-introduce something that you haven't thought about in a while or ever… Based on that depth I choose to include in the scene versus using just the white wall there's something way way way different here that you may not ask yourself when composing images. Obviously you have a different viewpoint than your subject. By extension so does your viewer. This is really the important part here…

Obviously the subject cannot see the white wall but that's not something that at all will play in the story - that's physics issue. However the room behind her now that it's in the frame is a completely different story. There is a relationship that's inescapable. Not only is there a relationship visually but now the viewer can obviously see things that the subject cannot. There's not anything actually going on in that space but the fact that there could be is extremely important.

Okay let's pull all of that other stuff off the back burner and mix it all together along with some what-if's and a healthy does of things you might want to consider. I'll stick them in a list of no particular order - people like lists.

  • No matter if you have a design or it's just happen stance run through framing and how it could play from a story point of view. How does the story change based on your subjects gesture? Direction of eyes? Looking away or towards? Awareness of scene or lack of? Just choices but definitely choices of yours and potentially your subject.
  • Of those huge variances in gesture for the three images above I said one thing - only one - that was specific to "pose" and that was lower your chin about 2 inches. That's as specific as I got. I did however interact to change between all three. Ask yourself what could/would you do in terms of interaction to cause or influence these three different gestures that is not some exact put your right foot here and your left hand here and… you get it - not physical placement direction. This can be important when working with subjects.
  • Warning about above item: What I say and do is not at all important. You thinking about what YOU say and do is. Hard to learn - easy to do. This is one thing that you are going to have to practice yourself - a lot. If you are thinking about it you are on the right track. Play a game with yourself - only use physical positioning direction to communicate generally where you want someone - use anything and everything else to see what you get. Take what you get and influence it from there in the same manner - this is collaborating with your subject. Do both. Be fluid.
  • Warning number 2: Highly subject dependent but doable - if it's not working always look to yourself first. This is your job. Having said that there will be people you work with that you just click - others not so much.
  • Beware of over-direction this can lead to some extremely lifeless stuff. Great if that's what you want - not bad not good. A choice if you are going for more dynamic over-direction can kill it.
  • Now here's an obvious variation to this small set of images - take it as an exercise for yourself. What if I put another person in that space behind the subject. Coming towards, going away, male, female, wardrobe, lack-there-of, etc, etc? Whatever you envision now run it through all three gestures. Serious do it. See what your imagination comes up with. Too bad I didn't have anyone else around while shooting for the lighting guide that day - I would have done that for sure in fact that's what I really wanted to do but figured this was enough for some sort of "mystery" - subtle. Take it for what it's worth.

Here's the point - if you are not thinking this way you may want to consider doing so. Just a thought and it's what makes this fun. It's also the "hard part" and what keeps things fresh.

Food for thought - I hope. Now… back to our regularly scheduled program. Strange post today - I know.


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