Sunday, June 13, 2010

Chris's Photographer's Code

They're more guidelines than actual rules...

These suggestions may not be the first things another photographer would tell you -- but I'm not that guy.

Today's lesson is on vision.

I hope you packed a lunch -- this is kind of long.

Seeing is more than the physical act of using our eyes. We see with our eyes, and our brains, but we also see emotionally.

 The human brain has the ability to focus on a single subject -- both visually and auditorily -- even in the midst of clutter and confusion. Our eyes and ears can block out the distractions surrounding the subject on which we have focused. This keeps us from being overwhelmed by our environment, but it doesn't help much when we're taking pictures.

For example:

You walk into the living room, and you see your youngest, curled up on the floor, next to the puppy. This is possibly the most precious thing you've ever seen, and you decide you want to capture it, to show to all of those not lucky enough to have been there to witness the blessed event first hand. You grab your camera, you aim, and you fire.

And the picture looks nothing like the scene you's why:

While your eyes took in the scene before you, your emotions filtered out all the clutter. You didn't see the dirty sock on the floor, or the half eaten sandwich, or the lamp, or the blanket, wadded up in the corner. But the camera saw, and recorded all of it. So we need to learn to help our cameras to see what we see.

Which brings me to this weeks three guidelines:

1. Compose

I mentioned last week that your camera should be your pen, or your paintbrush. It's your storyteller. And just as you would with a paintbrush, you get to decide what goes onto your canvas. You aren't taking a picture -- you're making one.

We tend to get a little quick on the draw with our cameras, and usually when we get quick, we get sloppy. Every picture tells a story and we need to make sure it's telling the story we had in mind. So take a few seconds, evaluate what you're looking at, and ask yourself why you wanted to take a picture of it. This will help you to tell the story you had in mind. Then, through the view finder, compose the picture that you want to see. Put the key components of the story into place, and eliminate the distractions.

(While all three of these pictures capture images of colorful hot air balloons, the last two focus your attention on the intended subject)

2. Watch the Background

When taking pictures, as noted before, our minds see our subject, but our camera sees everything. The worst picture is the one that distracts your viewer from the intended subject. And the thing that distracts us the quickest is the background. Backgrounds are very sneaky, not to mention passive/aggressive. They lurk (in the background, of course) unnoticed and (in their own minds) unloved. This has made backgrounds a little pathological, and they've learned to take it out on us, through our photographs. Just when you think you've created the perfect picture, up pops the background, to ruin it.

So, be aware at all times what the background is doing. This is especially important when photographing people -- or your child could end up with a tree growing out of his head.

Zoom: The easiest way to eliminate background distractions, is to zoom in on your subject. As you zoom, the background is blurred, and neutralized. Most cameras today have some type of zoom feature on them, but if yours doesn't, try taking a few steps closer to the subject -- and then a few steps more. You may also simply need to change your angle to get rid of those pesky backgrounds. Watch the edges of your viewfinder, and make sure you get everything you want in to the picture -- and nothing you don't want. Which brings us to:

3. Fill the Frame

If I was only allowed to give one piece of advice, this would be it. Fill the frame with the story you want to tell. From side to side, and from top to bottom, be sure that your picture has everything that you want, and nothing you don't. Get closer. And closer.

And closer.

Here I wanted to capture the sheer joy, and the adrenaline rush that Emma was getting on this ferris wheel. 

Since photography is a form of visual story telling, we have to be sure that the images we record tell the story we want them to tell. Decide what picture you want to take, and take THAT picture.

No more. No less.

(I wanted to capture the whimsy of It's a Small World, and I found I could do that by simply focussing on, and filling the frame with,  the clock tower, and eliminating the distractions of the fence and the moose bush -- I don't know what else to call it  :)

Fill the frame by zooming, or walking toward the subject, until the focus is on your subject -- and nothing else.

(Filling the frame is most dramatic when taking head shots)

In summary, evaluate your subject, compose the story, eliminate the back ground distractions through moving and zooming, and most important of all -- fill the frame!

Capture the memory you want to capture.


Cecily R said...

Passive-aggressive backgrounds...HA! That one made me laugh.

Krystyn @ Really, Are You Serious? said...

I'm the worst at getting background in the picture. And, what's worse, is they are almost always in focus! I want bokah, baby....

Okay, sorry..end vent. Thanks for the tips.

koreen (aka: winn) said...

Really good advice. I love that last shot. It's almost like you know what you're talking about! ;)

So, when are you gonna write a book?

Maybe sometime you can pop by for a looky-loo and tell me how you think my skills are coming along? Thanks.

Emmy said...

Yes I think the biggest mistake most people make is not getting in close enough, it makes a huge difference.

Nicole said...

Great tips! Now if I could only remember them when I'm taking pictures. I tend to just shoot and then notice everything after the fact. I need to just drill it in my head!!! Although my last post turned out well. It helps to have a nice background :)

Carrie and Troy Keiser said...

Great advice and very important when you want to make the picture tell the story. otherwise you are just taking a picture and not "making" it.

Kelly Deneen Raymond said...

Such a well-put together tutorial for those of us who want to do better. :)

{krista} said...

My therapist tells me I'm passive/agressive, too, so is that why backgrounds annoy me so much? Is it because we're too much alike?

Kat said...

I am so excited! This is such a big help to me, honestly! Thank you! :)

Honey Mommy said...

Great advice!

I have to say that I am getting better at composing my pictures. Those backgrounds sure can be sneaky though!

I am also getting better at getting closer to my subjects and filling the frame. I think sometimes we feel like we need to record everything, but I like the idea of telling the story as you see it much better.