Part One, Place
I do some of my best thinking while I'm driving. And yesterday, while driving my girls to karate, I started thinking. Maybe I don't really have a knack for photography, like everyone says. I realized my "knack" is actually years worth of education and study in the field of art. Things that are now second nature to me were once foreign concepts. And I'm really writing my blog for those of you for whom art and design is a foreign concept. Let's face it, there are lots of websites out there that talk about basic photography principals, but they also use a lot of jargon- subject, aperture, depth of field, composition, ISO, exposure. And while they go on to explain what these terms mean, they may loose you somewhere along the way. Or worse, you may never read them because they seem too technical! What a shame. Let's see if I can fix that.
So obviously, no one reaches for their camera to take a picture of nothing. If you pick up a camera, there is going to be something or someone that you intend to capture forever in light and on paper or in pixels on a computer screen. So let's talk about how to fill-up the space in your picture. (By the way, this is called the subject of your photograph. I don't think that's too technical, since lots of things have subjects- books, paintings, sentences... And for the benefit of the Google bots finding my post in the search engines, where you place your subject is called composition. But we'll end it there!)
So let's say you're going to take a picture of your kid. A lot of people grab the camera and shoot a picture from where they stand, concerned about nothing more than capturing the moment. But let me challenge you to stop for three seconds and ask yourself one question. "What's important about this moment?"
What's important about this moment? Whatever the answer is, THAT is what you fill your picture with. If it's the funny face your kid is making, then fill the picture with her face. If it's a high five after a great game, fill your picture with enough information to know you're at a soccer game. If it's a beautiful sunset, then get as much of that gorgeous sky into the picture as possible.
Let me give you some examples.
Sometimes you need a sense of place.
There is a lot about this photograph that works, my favorite part being the lines that point right to my girls' faces. But there is just the right amount of information in this picture. We were at a marine biology center, and the girls were really drawn to this particular tank of fish. I filled my picture with the two things that were important to me for this photograph- my girls and the fish tank. If I had taken the picture from behind, you would have seen the tank, but only the back of the girls' heads. Taking it from the side not only allowed me to get their faces in the shot, but it also allowed me to get closer to the tank and get a better shot of the fish, the texture of the sand, the knotty roots of the plant in the tank, the water droplets on the glass. I was also trying to catch the light. Photographing aquariums is hard. So. Hard. But that's a whole 'nother post, people!
In this picture, I had four important things I wanted to catch. That seems like a lot, I know. But let me set the scene. It was early spring. We were outside playing with chalk before dinner when my sister's curious cat came over to sunbathe. My daughter couldn't resist it and went to lay down next to her. And I couldn't resist a photo op! So the four things I was trying to catch were my daughter, the cat (the fact that she was petting the cat, really), the chalk drawing, and the sun beams. If I had stood up for the picture, I couldn't have really caught all four. I had to be in just the right spot to catch the sunbeams. Sunbeams take a little practice. But being low let me catch everything. If I had stood, I may or may not have been able to get the sunbeam, the fact that she was petting the cat, AND the chalk drawing all in the same shot. I could certainly have made a successful picture if I hadn't of gotten it all, but these are the elements that made up the memory I was trying to capture.
Photographs are tangible memories. And if we are talking about a sense of place in photographs, these pictures definitely bring that up for me, personally. When we moved to Rhode Island we lived in a hotel for a month while we closed on our house. Living in such a small, confined space with two small children was challenging, to say the least. We had yet to make friends. We didn't know our way around. We spent a lot of time in the hotel. Each of these pictures has just enough information in them to trigger a memory of the hotel. The hotel sofa. The hotel bed. The hotel lobby fireplace. But each one also has my daughters doing something that was indicative of the time we spent in the hotel- afternoon tea in the lobby, playing lots and lots of iPad, lounging in mom and dad's bed, and using more paper and tape than I would have imagined humanly possible in an attempt to amuse ourselves.
The trick is to include just the right amount of information. Too much information has the possibility of being distracting, and you risk loosing your intent for taking a photograph in the first place. But if you include too little information, then you loose your sense of place. Scroll through some of the images on your phone. Got any good ones that give you a sense of place? Post them in the comments! Can you identify any that could have used a little more information? A little less?
But maybe your sense of place isn't so important for your particular photograph. Stay tuned for part two!