Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Heart of a Photo


By Diane Bohlen

A good photo should evoke emotion, tell a story and engage the viewer.
evoke emotion (William Roberts)

Evoke Emotion

The most important thing you should know if you want to take a memorable photo is not perfect exposure, lighting or composition, nor is it using fancy equipment, but it is the ability to convey emotion and emotionally move the viewer. The image should convey a mood, feelings or a memory. Use feelings such as happiness and joy or sadness and despair 

despair (Jim Mortimer)

Make your viewer want to laugh, cry, rage, yawn or gasp in awe.
laugh (Elke Vogelsang)

gasp in awe (tvurk)

Other emotions to capture are longing, desire,fear  and excitement.
fear (Na-Son Nguyen)

Also convey the use of senses like smell, noise, taste, feel into your images.
feel texture

Evoking emotions is the heart of a photo. It is what brings a snapshot out of obscurity and make the photo shine. For Example you could take the sun setting over the sea, or you could have the same sunset with lovers in front holding hands. Different people will connect with each photo in different ways. Some will feel romantic and connect with the second photo and others would connect with the peacefulness and calm without distractions of the first photo.
You can’t guess the mood of the viewer, which is a good thing because the photo should be your expression of what you see and feel.
Great photographers have learned what type of image moves the greatest number of people. These are the photos that we remember most, like the severely burned, naked nine year old girl running away from the napalm bombing in Vietnam by Nick Ut or the National Geographic cover “Afghan Girl” with the green eyes by Steve McCurry.

The burnt girl was taken in 1972 and winner of Pulitzer Prise. It communicated the horrors of war better than any words. Kim Phuc was burnt badly on her back and arm she was yelling ‘to hot too hot.’ Nick took her to hospital and saved her life.
Afghan Girl was taken in 1984 in a refugee camp in Pakistan. 13 year old ,Sharbat Gula’s parents were killed when she was six by Soviet bombing in Afghanistan. Escaped with her Grandmother to Pakistan in winter at night. The green backdrop compliments her eyes and with the red burka framing her face makes her eyes pop. She is a Pushtan, a fierce Afghan tribe. Her face shows fear, defiance, inner strength and innocence. It captivated the hearts of millions of people and inspired the world to aid the refugee effort in Afghanistan.

Our pictures will only create emotions, memories and stories for a smaller circle of people like family and friends but they will be relived again and again. They don’t have to be dramatic but it could be that special look or behaviour of your grandchild.  It is much better than him/her looking at the camera with a cheesy smile. If you manage to capture mood, emotion, a story and use your technical knowledge as well it will be a memorable and powerful shot. 

Tips on how to evoke emotion in your photos

Your own mood has an impact on the emotional quality of the image. When you feel angry or calm, happy or sad, excited or miserable it will show in your images.
The photographer, Ann McKillen, was gettin
 bitten by mosquitoes and was feeling angry.
Later the mosquitoes  disappeared and she felt much calmer

Different weather and time of day can also change the mood of the shot.

afternoon -warm



Get up close. Keep spontaneity and intimacy by using a telephoto lens for people or else get to know them first. Don’t point the camera in their face without first talking to them and let them get used to the camera. Then wait until they return to their activity.
Often an emotion gets lost in a busy scene so simplify the main subject and focus on faces. Remember your mood could influence theirs so try to keep as neutral as possible.

Preparation. Research festivals, markets, culture and history before you go there. Especially get to know the photography culture of the society. Some peoples believe you take their soul when you take their photo. You should have an idea of the shots you want before you get to the scene.

Observe. Put the camera down and observe the mood of those around you. You travel in a bubble with your own mood so you need to be able to register the mood the scene.
The magic of an instant. It is the magic that makes photography an art. Photography goes beyond the camera. It is the experience of the moment, that is, being present in the moment that you are trying to capture. In other words, BE WITH IT.

Henri Cartier-Bresson
‘Spray and Pray ‘or the ‘Decisive Moment.’ Spray and pray means taking many shots and using the continuous setting and hoping that you get one good shot. Alternatively take time to capture the moment carefully. Henri Cartier-Bresson the father of photojournalism is attributed to the phrase “the Decisive Moment.” “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as a precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression.”

Capturing the moment is important in creating mood and emotion in your images. The decisive moment means pressing the button when all the elements come together just so, to make it perfect. It includes light, action, expression, position of the subject, shapes and composition.

Spray and pray is ok for moving objects, wildlife and birds.

Tell a story.

Have you ever wondered what makes the viewer have a longer look at an image? The secret to strong images is their ability to provide the viewer with a story. The images create emotion, mood, narrative, ideas and messages. These are all elements of story telling. Look at newspaper photos to get the idea. If you want to be a good photographer, you need to be a good storyteller. An image with a story that evokes emotion will keep the viewer engaged.
There are three types of stories: Ambiguous, (is an image where the story is unclear).

Personal (is an image you put on Facebook or a blog)

and Documentary.

Tips for telling a story

Make the focal point prominent, make it big, bright or colourful.

Set the scene. Put the focal point in context. Show what’s going on around the subject but be careful not to clutter. Don’t try to put too much of the story in one shot. To avoid this, use multiple shots to tell the story. It could be two or three or hundreds of images like in a travel album or photo book.  Don’t use too many shots for one scene, choose the best and delete doubles.

Plot. Show what happens by exploring feelings and emotions.

Conclusion. When using multiple shots to tell a story, be intentional about the last image. It doesn’t have to be happy ever after ending; it can be one that leaves the viewer wondering. Try to avoid cliché sunset shots. If it is a travel story, the last image could be unpacking or the airplane waiting to take you home. Try to give the viewer a sense of closure.

More tips for telling a story

Visual- Use shape and colour.

Action- sport, hiking, cycling, jumping, motor racing, walking. plane taking off, train pulling in.

Style- Use macro, panorama or wide angle.

Events-Use weddings, birthdays, festivals, car shows

Location-Use places where people gather like the central square, markets and the beach. Street photography is a great way to capture emotion and stories. Be alert and keep your eyes open and a story will simply appear.  Although we are encouraged to be prepared and know where you want to go to get that shot, it is also a good idea to get lost. Just walk the streets, looking for the unexpected.

Relationships-Use relationships between people or between subjects. Have more than one person in your shot interacting with each other. You can crop out the second person to create intrigue. You can have a relationship between a person and another element. The secondary element should complement the main subject, or be connected in some way. It gives the viewer something to explore.

Landscapes-To evoke emotion through landscapes you can use different light, different weather and different times of the day. Fog creates instant mood. If you feel gloomy go out on a rainy day or shoot through a wet window.

How do we know if our photos are good?
There is divided opinion on whether we should have our photos critiqued. Some say to keep your own style and don’t be influenced by the critic or adopt their style. Others say that a critique on technical aspects is okay as long as it is constructive. However if you want to know if you have created an image ask the viewer not, “Do you like this photo?” but ask, “What story do you see in this image?’ or “What do you feel when looking at this image?’
Anytime you activate your viewer’s brain you’ve gone a long way towards creating a compelling image.
chegu diman

Many times we fall in love with a photo and have no idea why. This is evoking emotion – THE HEART OF A PHOTO, this is your goal, and so have fun and practice, practice, practice.
Luis Valdares