So this is a little out of the blue, but maybe a change of pace from the incessant virus updates. Herewith a subject about which I can claim no significant authority: photography.
A true amateur behind the lens (candid admission in earlier post/s), I’m slowly coming to grips with the fundamentals. My interests are landscapes and architecture, with a fascination for the unseelie realm of art and abstract photography. Don’t ask me to define key terms, but I do know that a pot-plant maketh a landscape no more than a disembodied boob maketh boudoir. Portraiture (and here begins a long segue, so bear with me) despite not being what I’m actually interested in, is what I’ll use to explore the Devil’s Triangle of shutter speed + exposure + ISO — the basics of painting with light where so many of us amateurs are lost.
Don’t worry, this is not a Photography 101 post. What I know would fit onto the back of a postage stamp. This post is concerned with how I might systematically approach the question: “how are good photos made?” So I purloined a couple-hundred pics from the webz and analysed them from the perspective of The Photographer. My first attempt at cataloging pictures in a useful way was to ask, where is the camera? Is the lens infront of the subject, to the side, above, below, behind? I ended up with a clutter of half-empty folders and a headache. I mulled it over, reviewing portraiture itself in the abstract. What’s it all about? What does it set out to do? What obvious and less-obvious techniques are being used? Except for a few extraordinary images, there’s obvious artifice to even the most ‘natural’ pose.
So failure led me to a second system: light. Could I organise photos by natural vs artificial light? Subcategorised by studio-versus-(the photographic equivalent of) en plen air? I rearranged pics and ended with half-empty folders and a headache from squinting. Is that light from a window? That photo is front-lit by a window AND back-lit by a lamp! What folder does it go in? In fact, 90% of photos combine both natural and artificial light, and don’t get me started on what tricksy-Lightroom-bastard techniques are used to tweak the image! By the end of System #2 it got so bad I couldn’t confidently look at a picture and tell you whether it used daylight, lamp light, flash light, strobe light and/or the work of a crafty Adjustment Brush. These photographers, they take us for fools.
So categorisation by light is out. Frustrated, I went back to the images and looked again, looked hard, and realised finally what made ‘it’ for me. The look. My eye is drawn, first time and every time, to the exact same detail in each photo. One doesn’t need an expensive degree from the École des Beaux-Arts to explain why the reaction is so visceral. Simply, does the subject make eye contact with the viewer, or not? Does the subject connect with you, or not. Very quickly, everything fell into three distinct and satisfying categories which I shall now illustrate pictorially to save myself (and you) about three-thousand words:
No eye contact.
So simple, so effective. Luckily, Kate Upton was spared the ignominy of having her head bisected (which happens a lot) or decapitated (which happens even more). The averted gaze is no less artistic than staring provocatively into the lens, so why cut a head in half below the eyes (or hide it behind sunglasses, in shadow, behind artfully draped hair, a mask, etc) when you could just ask the subject to look away? Maybe it acknowledges that humans hunt for eye contact. You might ask the photographer: ‘Why make your image less engaging?” Well maybe for exactly that reason — to frustrate the instinctual, and to force yourself to consider something else. Often a boob, I have to say, or a bum. The shape of ‘woman’ rather than the woman herself. Sorry Kate! Art owes nothing except to make us think. It certainly doesn’t serve to ‘satisfy’ the consumer.
I instinctively know what I like, but my unthoughtful preferences are irrelevant, especially when it comes to creating something more promising than a snapshot.
I’ll keep you posted, assuming I survive the plague.