Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Agony and The Ecstasy

A sports image works when people don't have to read the caption.
-Bernard Brault

The world of sports serves as a microcosm of our society. At any age or any level, sporting events reveal the spectrum of human behaviors and emotions. There are heroes and villains, costly mistakes and lucky breaks, minutes of euphoria and hours of despair--and ultimately, winners and losers. It's this dichotomy that's of particular significance to the newsphotographer.

Early in my wire service career, the importance of capturing meaningful sports jubilation or dejection photos was hammered home. After all, it was our mission to provide client publications with images that clearly and definitively represented the outcome of games, and simply put, there is no better way to do that than with these types of pictures. With one compelling jubilation or dejection photo, readers know in an instant the outcome of their home team's game and clarity of that magnitude in the news business isn't easy to express.

For example, in this photo, fans would recognize the dejected player as the kicker and would immediately realize that the game was in his hands and the outcome is obvious--he missed the game winning kick and the Packers lost--all of this information is readily apparent in his expression and posture, nothing more needs to be communicated.

I believe sporting events offer photographers some of the purest moments of human emotion, and it's between the lines and the agony and the ecstasy where these images are found.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Introducing Disorder

A Ming vase can be well-designed and well-made and is beautiful for that reason alone. I don't think this can be true for photography. Unless there is something a little incomplete and a little strange, it will simply look like a copy of something pretty. We won't take an interest in it. -John Loengard

When thousands of agitated Wisconsin tavern owners converged on the State Capitol steps to protest the raising of the legal drinking age from 19 to 21, the media was out in force too, hoping to capture or depict the anger and frustration these people felt and the controversy this topic generated as well. While most of the photogs at this event were satisfied to shoot wide angle pictures--surmising that perspective realistically conveyed the size of the crowd--I chose a different view utilizing one of the compositional techniques discussed in a previous post: introducing disorder.

Even though this topic generated some confusion and debate in one of my photo classes, I stand by this definition for the term: introducing disorder relies on a generally chaotic scene with a clear focal point and a discernable and simple message. By employing a telephoto lens(in this case, a 180mm)and concentrating(or compressing)a selected section of the crowd, I believe this photo was able to accomplish those goals.

The essence of photojournalism is story-telling -- cleanly and quickly -- and sometimes there is beauty and truth in chaos.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Focal Point - Why?

The focal point of a lens and a photograph share similar functions -- they concentrate or focus the light or the viewer's eye to a specific point on a given plane. Digitally or traditionally, photography wouldn't exist without this key element, but does the same significance hold true when examining the finished product -- the image? The focal point of a photograph is usually the image's main subject, however the viewer's eye may be drawn(through the use of several compositional techniques)to a different place in the photograph, thus allowing the photographer to control or determine the viewer's point of view.

In many instances(especially in newsphotography), information about the photograph is explicit -- there are distinct visual clues identifying the subject, what they are doing, and when and where the picture was taken. In other cases, the information is implicit -- implied or not clearly communicated by the photographer and left for the viewer to imagine or infer. When the context of a photo is unclear, viewers often make assumptions based on their own experiences and values, possibly altering or even misinterpreting the message the image was truly meant to communicate.

So just how relevant is a clear focal point in your photographs? That's really up to you, the photographer, to decide.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

6 and 15

Two of the most frustrated trades are dentists and photographers-- dentists because they want to be doctors, and photographers because they want to be painters.
-Pablo Picasso

I've always admired - and even envied - the superior skills and wonderful works of our world's great painters. And while I don't necessarily agree with Picasso's quotation, I do believe painters and photographers share common goals and common ground. Both artists begin with a blank space and the task of filling it--in a complete, interesting, and ideally, thought-provoking fashion. But it seems to me, photographers really operate as painters in reverse: they don't create their subjects, their subjects create them by providing the vision they strive to capture and communicate.

In spite of their differences in ideology and methodology, painters, photographers, and all artists embrace a clear and simple set of rules that defines everything they conceive:

The 6 Elements of Design

Line: Horizontal(Tranquil), Vertical(Strong), Diagonal(Dynamic)
Shape: Natural(Active), Geometric(Passive)
Space: Proportion/Scale/Depth, Nearer: Greater Importance
Value: Light vs. Dark, High Contrast Moves Forward, Low Recedes
Color: Hue(Specific Name), Chroma(Intensity), Value(Light-Dark)
Texture: Rough/Smooth, Soft/Hard, Light and Shadow on the Surface

To take this discussion a step further(for photographers!), Photo Editor Larry Nighswander has identified 15 Elements of Composition that can control the "look" of your photographs. Some pictures contain one of the elements, while others will use several of them (note: every element will be defined and explored individually in future posts). The elements are:

Rule of Thirds
Controlled Depth of Field
Lighting as a Creative Device
Linear Perspective
Introducing Disorder
The Decisive Moment
Selective Focus
Dominant Foreground, Contributing Background

In light of all this fascinating information, it's no wonder that even a renowned painter can experience a change of heart!

I have discovered photography. Now I can kill myself. I have nothing else to learn. -Pablo Picasso

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Right(Write)Down the Line

A few years ago, I spent the summer working as a conversational English instructor in Sapporo, Japan. One day while preparing for class, I was stunned to see ubiquitous designated as a vocabulary word for that lesson--even I had to pull out the dictionary and look it up! I discovered it meant "everywhere, all the time", and lately when thinking of photography and its relationship to the 6 elements of design(which will be covered in detail in a future post), I've realized there's another word that embodies that definition. Whether they're powerful and strong(vertical), or peaceful and tranquil(horizontal), or dynamic and energetic(diagonal), your images wouldn't exist without the presence and qualities afforded by lines. Compositionally speaking, lines are the graphic unifier or building blocks of any photograph or work of art, for that matter. Good photographers see pictures everywhere they look, but they also notice the importance of lines--they're ubiquitous!