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Photographic Aesthetics

rev. 10/31/00. Photographic Aesthetics. Or, How Not to Shoot Snapshots, Even If That’s All You’ve Ever Done Before. What Is A Snapshot?. Poor composition. Background is distracting. People posed and stiff: looking at, and reacting to the camera. Lighting is always flash-on-camera.

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Photographic Aesthetics

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  1. rev. 10/31/00 Photographic Aesthetics Or, How Not to Shoot Snapshots, Even If That’s All You’ve Ever Done Before.

  2. What Is A Snapshot? • Poor composition. • Background is distracting. • People posed and stiff: looking at, and reacting to the camera. • Lighting is always flash-on-camera. • Camera/subject distance too great. • Poor control over camera variables. • Poor exploration of subject potential.

  3. Poor Composition. • Main subject is always centered in frame. • People have limbs cut off at their joints. • Important subject is close to edge of frame. • Image lacks visual “balance.” • Empty foreground diminishes sense of depth. • Picture is “busy” or disorganized; without center of interest. • Size and format (vert./hor.) never vary.

  4. Background is Distracting. • Background activity draws attention from subject. • Object in background connects to foreground subject in way that is objectionable. • Camera’s lens is focused on the background. • Lighting emphasizes the background.

  5. People Posed. • People are stiffly arranged in front of camera. • Subjects “mug” or “play” for the camera. • Everyone is always looking at the camera. • The same people are in all your pictures. • There are never any “candids”.

  6. Flash-On-Camera = Snapshot. • Bright foreground, dark background. • Red-eyed subjects. • Harsh shadows directly behind subjects. • Loss of environmental lighting ambiance; the “sense of place” is diminished.

  7. Natural Light is Used Incorrectly. • Pictures taken without the flash and with natural light (available light) can also look like snapshots if • The sun (or other light source) is in the picture. • The picture is composed so that people are against a large area of bright sky (silhouette).

  8. Camera/Subject Distance Too Great. • Keeping person at a distance introduces sense of alienation. • Distance inhibits perception of facial details which convey deep sense of character. • Potential impact of picture is lost. • Inhibitions regarding personal space stop photographer from getting better picture.

  9. Poor Control of Camera. • Picture is too light or too dark. • Exposure is incorrect. • Moving subject is blurred. • Shutter speed too slow. • Static subject is blurred. • Camera not held steady; tripod needed. • Subject is out of focus.

  10. Subject Potential Not Explored. • Descriptive environmental details not used well. • Subject just staring at camera; could be involved in some activity. • Subject has awkward facial expression, or lacks expression entirely.

  11. To Avoid Taking Snapshots... • Consider the composition and design. • Be aware of the background. • Take both portraits and candids. • Use natural light where possible. • Get closer to your subject. • Understand and use camera’s controls. • Research subject’s visual potential.

  12. Rules for Good Composition. • Don’t position main subject in the center of the picture, like a bullseye. • Consider the rule of thirds. • Don’t crop people at the knees or elbows. • Do crop into the head, for impact. • Strive for balance, not symmetry. • Use horizontal or vertical orientation, depending on subject.

  13. Compose to Avoid Centering. centered not centered

  14. More Rules for Good Composition. • When main subject is in the distance, place some other object in foreground. • Adds perspective and “frames” the main subject. • Provide each picture with a center of interest, organize design elements to focus upon it. • In image processing, other controls can be used to add/subtract visual emphasis.

  15. Design the Perspective. • Particularly with landscapes and “vistas,” enhance the picture’s illusion of depth by • Positioning something close to the camera which provides an additional point of focus. • Using a foreground element to “frame” the vista in the background.

  16. Rules for the Background. • Be aware of any activity in the background which might draw attention from your main subject. • Exclude it when you take the picture. • Crop it , darken it , or blur it when you edit the picture. • Understand how the camera’s focus controls work, and be sure the focus is on the subject.

  17. More Rules for the Background. • Be sure the light is stronger on the subject. • Examine the image in the camera’s viewfinder carefully to avoid • a tree growing out of someone’s head. • a person with four arms. (Someone was standing directly behind.) • a vehicle driving into someone’s body.

  18. Rules for Shooting People. • When making a portrait, pose subject, control background, control lighting. • Shoot candids whenever possible. • Ask people not to look at the camera, but to proceed with whatever activity in which they were engaged. • If subjects insist on posing or mugging, take candids afterwards.

  19. Working With Subjects. • To create candid pictures you must work to put your subjects at ease; when they are comfortable with you, they will be able to ignore you. • Spend time talking and interacting with the subjects before you begin taking pictures. Then ask them to ignore you as you begin photographing.

  20. Taking Pictures Unobtrusively. • To take pictures without attracting your subject’s attention, you must have your camera’s settings correct beforehand. • You may use the zoom lens from a position outside your subject’s field of view . • Wait until your subjects are distracted before you begin taking pictures.

  21. A Variety of Perspectives. • Experiment with shooting different aspects of your subject. • Try a variety of camera positions: high, low, near, far. • Use the camera both vertically and horizontally. • If appropriate, take a “detail shot” using the camera’s close-up focus settings.

  22. Rules for Lighting. • When the available light helps to set a mood, try turning off the flash, if possible. • Use a tripod to get a sharp picture. • Outdoors at dawn or dusk. • With dominant window light. • With directional incandescent light.

  23. More Rules for Lighting. • Whenever possible, position yourself so that the sun is behind you. • If it is unavoidable to have the light source in front of you, use an exposure compensation, if your camera allows. • When there is a large expanse of bright sky behind your subject, turn a “fill flash” if your camera has that feature.

  24. The #1 Rule for Lighting. • Most importantly, use your eyes : • Explore the ways that the natural light contributes to the sense of place. • If a landscape, can it be made more interesting by waiting for the sun’s lengthening shadows of the late afternoon? • Are there ways that you can adjust the balance of the existing light source(s) to create a photograph that captures the emotional content of the lighting?

  25. Rules for Getting Close. • More than anything else, moving closer to your subject will avoid the snapshot look. • If subject is uncomfortable, begin by taking pictures from a conventional distance. • Be aware of the difference between actual distance and psychological distance (personal space).

  26. Rules for Camera Controls. • Know when to override automatic exposure. • Understand how to capture motion effectively. • Use a tripod when needed. • Understand your camera’s focusing controls. • Depth of field.

  27. Rules for Exploring Potential of Subject. • Determine which objects within the environment should be used in the picture to provide meaningful context in a portrait. • Exclude other things if possible. • Determine if the object should be placed in the background, in the foreground, or used in some fashion by the subject.

  28. More Rules for Exploring Potential of Subject. • Since you know why you want the subject’s picture, you may suggest an activity in which he/she might be involved. • Wait for (or try to elicit) the best possible facial expression and body language. • Engage the subject in animated conversation. • Spend enough time with the subjects so that they become comfortable enough to ignore your presence.

  29. A Thousand Words... • A photograph does have great communication value; a photograph with accompanying text has more. • By placing the image within a factual context, giving names to people and places, the text accompanying the photograph can greatly enhance the picture’s value.

  30. Captions: Pictures with Text. • The caption (also called the “cutline”) is an important component of visual communication. • The caption should provide information to the reader that is not available by looking at the image. • Especially when the picture stands alone and is not accompanied by a story, the caption must answer the questions which the picture raises in the mind of the reader.

  31. Facts in the Caption. • The caption information should include (but is not limited to) the following: • WHO? • Full names for adults; first name only for kids (unless you have parental consent). Correct spelling is essential. • Names may be optional when there is a group of four or more persons. • After the first mention of a person, subsequent references should be by pronoun or by last name. • • Age (usually only for the children and the very old). • • City of residence.

  32. More Caption Facts. • • Occupation (or “major” for a student). • • WHAT is going on? What activity are the people engaged in? • • WHEN did this activity take place? Watch for consistency of tense: if it was a one-time activity then using the past tense is best. For continuing situations, the present tense makes more sense. • • WHERE was this happening? • • WHY did this occur? Depending on the needs of the publication, the caption information can be as in-depth as required.

  33. Captions Do’s and Don’ts. • Do use a quote where appropriate. • A quote may add a significant dimension to the portrait of a person It can also improve the credibility of the photograph by tying it to the actual words of the person pictured. Be sure your quote is given attribution (“...,” said Jones.) and is correctly punctuated. • Don't use phrases such as “In this picture, you can see...” or “This photograph shows...”. • The reader knows it’s a photograph; no need to draw attention to that fact.

  34. More Caption Do’s and Don’ts. • Do use the caption to tell the reader interesting facts about the subject even if those aspects of the subject are not evident in the photograph. • e.g. “Jones, who was an Olympic silver medalist in 1938,....” • Don't put yourself into the caption. • Never use phrases such as “When I took this picture...” or “When asked about his army days, Jones said...”

  35. Parts of a Typical Caption. • A typical format for a caption will often have two parts: • The “caption head.” • Similar to a newspaper headline. • The “body” of the caption. • Answers all the important questions; may contain a quote from the subject; 3-5 sentences.

  36. A Typical Caption. Fierce Competition. Myrna Collins, 86, of Sparks, is deep in concentration as she waits for the next ball to be drawn in her Bingo game yesterday. “I haven’t won in two weeks,” she said, “but today I feel lucky.” Collins is a retired University of Nevada groundskeeper.

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