2009 June - Archive
I like to interpret that as not only physical proximity to the lens, but mental proximity to the subject. One way to achieve that mental proximity is to feel empathy towards your subject.
Take this image for example. Most people driving down the street would see a pile of trash waiting for pickup. A photographer, though (especially one who had also been through Katrina), would see a family’s prized possessions, thrown out by a tearful family.
When you have water up to your roof for several weeks, very little can be saved. A beloved family portrait, ruined in its frame, is destined for the trash heap.
I showed this image at a photography seminar once. Afterward, several Katrina survivors, tears running down their faces, came up to me to share their own stories, knowing I would understand.
You don’t have to survive a major hurricane to empathize with your subjects. But if you can understand their situation, try to understand how they feel, you can better create an image describing it.
Empathy isn’t the only way to get close to your subject. Understanding its behavior can also help; wildlife photographers have know this for years. If you know what an animal or an insect is going to do, you can better prepare yourself to get the image.
Take a few minutes to study behavior. For example, if you watch a dragonfly flying about in a field, you’ll notice that it will return to the same perch many times over. If you put yourself in position, you can wait for the dragonfly to come to you.
What does a tree frog do right before he leaps? Where do hummingbirds tend to hover? How long does a deer freeze when startled? What time of day do the red-winged blackbirds sing while sitting in the reeds?
Don’t just wait for the pictures to come to you. Take the time to study behavior (and this includes people!), and you can be sure to be in the right place at the right time.
Get a little closer.
Conflict is at the heart of all story. For an image to imply a story, it must include conflict.
In this image (to the left), you can see that, even if you aren’t familiar with the story of Cabaret, the distant stare of the woman and the last, lingering glance of the man show some sort of strong emotional conflict going on.
Stage plays, by definition, portray plenty of conflict and drama, and the photographic possibilities are endless.
Not all stories (and images showing a story) are about open conflict, though. More often, we try to imply a sense of story by showing contrasts. The visual contrasts of light versus dark, soft versus hard, color versus monochrome. And the conceptual contrasts such as big versus small, mechanical versus natural, expected versus unexpected. All these can imply a sense of story.
In the image to the right is an example of contrasts of textures. Notice the tones throughout the image are very close, but the very smooth surface of the water contrasts with the sharp, random branches of the tree.
The image to the left is showing several different types of contrast, both visual and conceptual. Light versus dark. Bright colors versus drab browns.
Life versus death.
This close-up of a Roseate Spoonbill shows several type of contrast as well. Beautiful versus ugly. Color versus monochrome. And expected (the soft, beautiful pinks of a bird) versus unexpected (the wrinkled, vulture-like ugliness of his head).
And the last example, the formal, reverent facade of the Alamo versus the frivolous pink hat and teddy bear of a tourist.
Not all images imply (or should imply) a story. But if they do, it makes them vastly more interesting. Understanding the concepts of story, and how it is achieved in an image through conflict and contrast, can help you make stronger images.