Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Photography Lesson III - Lining Up A Shot

Since we have gone over equipment and the basics of camera settings, then next logical topic is how to line up a shot so that you get the most out of your photos. People will notice how well a photo is lined up and how it draws their eye before they noticit that it is a little blurry or dark.  In fact, when the angle on a photo is perfect, little flaws can be played up as artistic.

Most people's photography needs fall into a category (like nature, the kids, pets, etc) that that is the main subject of the majority of their pictures. If you have children, you are probably going to be most interested in tips on children's photography. Same goes if you take mostly nature shots, or portraits. I will try to use examples and present info in a way so that everyone can benefit from it.

As I said in my last photography lesson, I use the viewfinder on my camera to take pictures rather than looking at the LCD screen. I find that it is easier to imagine what a picture will look like when I block out all other visual information. I can then review the photos on the screen when I'm done.

The first thing to ask yourself when lining up a picture is Why am I taking this picture? If you are photographing your child's soccer game, you are going to want to get a shot of your child with the ball or in action, right? This means you are going to want to zoom out a bit so you can get your child's body and the ball in the shot. A closeup of little Susie's face isn't what you are going for here. Makes sense, no? On the other hand, if you are trying to photograph the beauty of a rose, you are going to want to get in close to capture its intricacies. If you take a wide shot of a rose garden you will have a nice shot of a garden, but nothing extraordinary because the viewer's eye will not be drawn to any particular subject.

 And that is my next tip: ask yourself What is the subject of this picture? Your answer will probably be "My child kicking a soccer ball" and not "My child and five other kids on a soccer field". Keep in mind that the background of a picture can be distracting if the subject doesn't fit with it, or if the subject isn't placed well in it. Your eye tends to dart around looking for a subject to settle on, and if it can't, it will move on to something more interesting. Let's look at some examples.

Here is an example of an action photo where having the subject placed correctly in the frame is crucial. In this case, the background colors go nicely with the subject so they add to the photo rather than distract from the subject. It was also important for the photo to be in portrait (up and down) format. This layout minimizes the amount of uninteresting background and makes Arrow look longer and the jump more spectacular. It allows more sky and ground immediately around him to be shown. You can see that Arrow is nicely centered in the picture. Given that the background is pretty, but not particularly relevant to the subject of the photo, having the subject centered made the picture more visually appealing. The next example is the opposite.

When lining up this shot I felt that it was important to capture as much of the background as possible without minimizing the subject. It would not have been very interesting to see Richard against a white snow background without any of the context that the trees bring. This photo was taken from the top story deck of the house in Lake Tahoe. The height was crucial in getting the right angle for this shot. Richard had just sledded down the hill and was climbing back up for another go. I loved that he was wearing all black (even though the doofus was in short sleeves) because it played so well against the snow. I could have panned a bit right to center him in the lower half of the frame, but sometimes an off center subject is best. I chose to anchor him in the bottom right of the shot because it accentuated the fact that he was walking uphill. (It can be helpful to think of your subject as the anchor of the picture. It makes the subject seem weightier and helps you visualize the shot before you take it.) NOTE: The color was edited in PhotoShop to make it black and white while keeping the color of the sled. I will explain how to do this in a future Photography Lesson.

In the Arrow photo I sat on the ground to accentuate the height of the jump. In the photo of Richard I climbed up to take the picture from above to get a lot of background in and to highlight the uphill journey.  Here is another example of the importance of the height you take a picture from.

For this photo of Hayden I had him lie on the ground on his tummy with his arms over his boppy pillow. Because this put him low to the ground, I needed to get even closer to the ground than sitting on it would have allowed. So I got on my tummy too, propped on my elbows, and got him centered in the frame. If I had been sitting I would have gotten more of the top of his head than his face. Once I was set up I shook a toy in my left hand out of frame to get his attention (and apparently Bodie's too if you look in the background). I will do a Photography lesson on the best ways to engage your subject a little later (I sure am making more work for myself!)

Using your surroundings to frame a subject and make the photo more visually interesting is my next tip. Here are a few examples. Each of these photos would have been very different if I had pushed in past the closer objects instead of using them as a frame.

This walkway at Pebble Beach is pretty, but by taking the photo through an opening in the sheer curtains the photo becomes more interesting. The colors seem more vibrant and the curve of the sidewalk looks more pronounced.

For this photo of a vineyard, instead of zooming in past the stone archway I pulled back and let the arch create a natural frame. The archway acts like a funnel directing the viewer's eye to the vineyard.

This picture of the valley with the circular frame is an example of looking around you to see what might make your picture more visually appealing. Any ideas about how I achieved this? Well, the photo was taken through a knothole in a fence. I got up close to the fence, focused on the landscape, and the fence created a creative frame. Again, the viewer's eye is directed to the subject (the view) and any extraneous visual information is blocked by the fence.

Finally, for this photo at Lake Tahoe instead of avoiding this location because of all of the branches in the way, I used the branches in the foreground to frame the shot. Many times objects in the foreground can accentuate the background of your pictures as well as add context.

Now, let's talk about getting really creative with the placement of your subject. Sometimes it is fun to place the subject of your photo in a wacky spot in the frame.

This picture of Arrow is fun because the background is blurred out and his eyes draw yours. Don't dismiss a photo like this, even if it was an accident.

For this photo Baby B I pushed in really close to focus on his amazing blue eyes and precious lips. I have other pictures of his whole little self, so I wanted one that would accentuate the details.

The same can be said for the following photos of Hayden.  I got some great photos of his face, or all of him, so I wanted to capture some of the finer details. Take a little time to pick out the details of your subject. For Hayden I chose his sweet hands, mouth, toes and eyelashes. I did this because he was 4 months old and I knew that his parents would want to have some pictures to remember the little baby things that change so quickly.

Final tip: sometimes the subject isn't what you think.

In this photo, the little girl's face doesn't matter. The emotion in the photo comes from her little hands pressed against the store window.  Think about what you are trying to convey with the photo.

The same is true for this photo of the sisters at the piano. The emotion of the photo comes from seeing their little backs squished in together (the older ones framing the baby) and from the two sisters looking at each other. We got some great shots of their faces that day, so their faces weren't important here. We know who they are. The emotion is the key (both what is shown and what is evoked).

Here is the final example: Javan and Karen in Washington, DC. Here I didn't want to take a portrait of them holding hands. I wanted to capture the moment. The visual of them holding hands walking down the tree lined sidewalk is best presented from the back. Not seeing their faces leaves the emotion entirely in their body language.  I like to think that one day their grandchildren will really like this photo too.

So that is a little lesson on framing your photos and lining up your shot. This post doesn't address lighting, staging, taking advantage of the moment, or many other factors that I will address later. The point of this was to help you broaden the way you arrange your shots. Play around with this and I think you will be pleased. Think about what you are going for, but don't over think it (make sense?). Some of the best photos are happy accidents.

Next lesson: Lighting - Sometimes it's okay to cross to the dark side.

3 comments to blog for:

April said...

Meghan...thank you so much for sharing these wonderful tips...your photos are breathtaking! I learn something every time I visit!

April said...

Meghan...thank you so much for sharing these wonderful tips...your photos are breathtaking! I learn something every time I visit!

Karen said...

Am I famous now? Love the way you're walking everyone through your photography step by step - Keep it up!