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"All In A Mood"

[listen to the lesson]

There's something special about days when people just lie down on the ground in the middle of a public place and snooze.

I was reading a funky book recently where the guy recommends just suddenly lying down in the middle of the street for ten seconds then getting up and carrying on, as a way of gaining confidence and not caring about what others think. Must try it someday. In the meantime I'll content myself with photos of those who do.

Maybe it's the long shadows, or the arm thrown lazily across the eyes or the presence of water... but whatever elements go to make up this gentle scene, there is a definite mood, and conveying a mood is an important concept in photography...


Key points
 
Angles & Echoes

I'll start with a specific aspect of composition here: angles. As it happens, this picture nicely illustrated a couple of interesting points.

There are basically two parts to this picture: the water and the river bank. This creates a strong diagonal separating the bit where things are happening (the bank) from the bit where things are not (the Seine). Don't forget that if I hadn't tilted the camera this wouldn't have been an angle at all, but simply a straight line going horizontally across the shot, so this was a definite creative decision on my part.

To echo this line is a tiny bit of the wall I was leaning on, in the bottom left of the shot. This is almost insignificant, but it does balance the pic a bit and acts as a frame for the walkers' shadows.

In contrast to these static angles are the shadows of the walkers and the mooring post in the river. These are at almost the same opposing angle as the edge of the path, creating a pleasing 'V' shape at the top of the picture and filling in that bit of water with something.

The echo in this case comes from the fact that the two walkers' shadows are perfectly mimicked by the shadows of the two mooring posts in the river. Don't think this is negligible - it all goes to making the shot hang together nicely (even if I did notice this only about ten minutes ago!).

Composition

Apart from the above, what else is there to say about the composition? Well, you know me... there's plenty - always plenty!

The dude up top-left is both a pain and a blessing. At first I thought, oh no, he's far too much stuck in the corner. But then I thought, no, he nicely frames that part of the shot, adds to the balmy atmosphere, and balances that block of shadow bottom right.

Funnily enough, the sprouts of greenery clinging to the river bank are perfectly echoed by the smaller blobby shadow of the leaves on the bottom. Another example of how repetition, however subtle, can make a shot stronger.

The people walking are not there by accident. Well, I didn't actually tell them what to do, but you can bet I waited quite a while to have the right sort of passers-by filling in that vast void of empty cobblestones as a more animated counterpoint to the lazy sunbathers.

And of course on a day like that (21st June, longest day of the year, during the FÍte de la Musique in Paris) they come with their shadows absolutely free of charge.

So in the end we have a sort of harmonious triangle formed by the lying woman, the sitting man, and the two walkers. The whole thing nicely framed by bits of wall, tree shadows, greenery and river architecture, all going up to make a pleasing shot.

Atmosphere & Mood

These are created by a combination of things: the weather, the position of the photographer, the poses of the subjects, the angle of the sun and the texture of the surfaces.

Here the poses suggest tranquillity and relaxation - even the walkers are clearly strolling, not hurrying.

The long shadows and the texture of the cobblestones (which I emphasised later on the computer) add to the idea of an indolently sinking sun warming the banks of the river Seine on a long summer's day.

Looking down on the subjects not only gives an interesting point of view but also suggests a bit of intrigue or even envious voyeurism! Maybe the photographer would actually quite like to be himself lying down next to that supine and scantily clad young lady, listening to the gentle lapping of the ripples against the Seine's mossy moorings...


 
Photo Ideas
 
  • Look for stark angles such as the edges of modern buildings or lampposts or chair legs - anything - and do something original with them. Twist and turn your camera - it won't mind, honest!
     
  • Put yourself up high somewhere - maybe on a bridge or a walkway over a busy shopping precinct or business area - and take pictures of the busy little ants scurrying around below you. Make patterns with them and let your imagination run wild. People look so funny from above! (watch out for lens flare from fatties' balding heads like mine!)
     
  • On a balmy summer's day, or alternatively a chilly winter's morning, go out looking to create an atmosphere. People wiping their brows, blowing into their hands, clutching their coats about them or taking off their pullovers - it's up to you to tell the story.
Then comment on this lesson in the Photo Blog with a link to your best result - we all want to see them!
 

 
Summary
  • angles & echoes - make angles where there aren't any by tilting your camera and see what you can create out of the ordinary. Play different angles against each other and look for several angles going in the same direction which can be used to dynamic effect
     
  • composition - think carefully about every element of the photo and try to make them complement each other. Think about the shapes the subjects create between them, and don't forget to frame your picture with what's available, even if it's only a bit of a scruffy old plant or a wavy shadow
     
  • atmosphere & mood - you, the photographer, have two jobs: one is to find a mood, and the second is to enhance it! Reality is rarely as wonderful as we would like it to be, but don't worry, we have a whole bag of tools to help us - be they in your imagination as you set up the shot or in your tinkering afterwards - there are no rules!

 

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