Respect the performer

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy photographing musicians playing. There are other forms of performance, though, and these can be as much fun and as much of a challenge to photograph.

Something that might not be immediately thought of as ‘performance’ is delivering a talk or lecture. And yet, to do this well requires similar skills to any musical or acting performance. Continue reading “Respect the performer”

On eye magnets

A while back I wrote about how a photographer has choose whether or not to make major (or even quite minor) changes to an image.

My preference is not to take anything out of an image (I rarely, if ever, add anything) unless I have a compelling reason to do so.

The other day, I took a picture which, quite simply, had to be modified. This picture scored a perfect 10 for the presence of an eye magnet: a minor feature of the image that constantly draws the eye away from the rest of the picture.

This is the picture that I took of my friend Alison Diamond (top-notch sax player, BTW).

Eye magnet

Do you see it? Well, you can’t miss it, can you? That target-shaped design just keeps pulling your eye to it. Its colour and shape stand out against the rest of the pattern, and that has the effect of it seeming to be an independent object. I suspect that, were I to print this picture, one’s first reaction would be to try to peel the round bit off—it looks so much like something that’s been stuck on, not even a part of the original scene.

There was no dilemma about this: it had to go. Not that I’m passing any sort of comment on the nature of the pattern or Alison’s impeccable choice in clothing. From a purely photographic point of view it could not remain there, other than as an example in a post about eye magnets.

Ahhh, much better

(Since I was making that change, I felt I might as well get rid of the intrusive piece of mirror, since that was also adding nothing whilst being slightly distracting.)

The odd thing is that, in real life, you would barely notice that part of the pattern. Our brains process real-life views differently than they do static pictures. In real life things are 3-D, we interact with the scene—we’re part of the scene—we concentrate on different things. When we’re faced with a picture, however, the dynamic changes; we’re no longer part of the scene, we’re not interacting with it, so we’re free to change the focus of our attention. We also have a lot more time to examine everything in the scene, since it’s not constantly changing.

And thus we have one of the reasons why our photographs sometimes fail to bring back the memories that we have of the event. The art of photography includes the understanding of the different ways we react to real life and to images, and to modify the picture-taking process (and, sometimes, the post-processing) to account for that difference.

Get closer…

I was at the Cheshire Show recently. I like events like that – there are often good opportunities to hone a few skills. For example, the day I went, there was some jousting and horse-boarding going on in the central area, both of which provide some exercise for the sports-shooting muscles.

For the purposes of this post, though, I want to talk about the vintage cars; and one in particular.

I don’t really ‘do’ cars: I like to drive them, but photographing them doesn’t really appeal to me. I probably wouldn’t have bothered with this lot—they were parked close to each other, lots of people wandering around, distracting backgrounds—except that among the Ferraris and Jaguars and others was a wonderful 1959 Cadillac Coupé de Ville.

What drew me to that car in particular? Partly it was the gorgeous pearlescent green paint work and partly the outrageously OTT styling from a more naive age: one where we didn’t really understand the effect we are having on the world.

As I said, the layout didn’t lend itself to a full-car shot, so I decided to go for detail shots. I wanted to try to capture the ‘essence’, if you like, of the car: what aspect of the styling is important to recognising it as that particular make and model? (Apart from the words ‘Coupe de Ville’ written down the side, of course.)

I think that there are three things that are at the core of that car’s distinctive look: the tail fins, the tail lights and the headlight cluster. Given that, I decided to go in really tight on those features, to make pictures that were not just about a 1959 Coupé de Ville, but about a specific feature of a 1959 Coupé de Ville.

When I got back home, I looked through the pictures and realised that I actually needed to crop those particular images even tighter than I had framed them at the time.

What I got at the end was three pictures that I could combine into a triptych that pretty much screams “1959 Cadillac Coupé de Ville” without ever showing more than about 10% of the car.

coupe de villeThe point I’m trying to make is that you don’t always want to step back and get more in to your pictures. Sometimes it pays to step forward, get closer and then get a bit closer still. Follow the link I gave above and see how many pictures aren’t a fairly generic wide shot of the car, and see how those that close in on a detail seem to say more.

So challenge yourself – look for the essence of something and photograph that, rather than just trying to ‘get the whole thing in’.


† Not at the same time…