On-Line Digital Photography Course
Animals add a touch of
magic to any photo, and Paris isn't short of 'em. Although pooch
poop is almost a thing of the past thanks to a massive clamp
down on careless canine crapping, the number of dogs hasn't
diminished in the slightest as far as I can see.
This was a lovable if
rather lornsome chap we came across on a Saturday morning tour
which had wandered into the Marais. I thought we could stick our
noses into the wonderful Marais dance centre where you find the
famous Café de la Gare, which is, or course, a...
theatre, and where you are surrounded by dance studios radiating
energies of every wavelength, and there he was...
Today I offer you five
pictures, taken within three minutes of each other. If you
had to choose ONLY ONE of them as a legacy of that sweet
meeting, which would it be? Decide now, before reading
Capturing a Feeling
Obviously the most
important thing in these shots is the dog. You got that,
didn't you?! But that's not quite enough. To capture a
moment which can claim to have something to say, you need
Let's look at this in
In Pic 1 the dog's in
full flight, jumping at a tossed tennis ball, but
unfortunately you can see neither his face or the ball. Two
important aspects missing: his face to 'humanise'
(animalise...?) the shot, and the ball to understand why
he's in that weird position.
A unique feature of Pic
1 is that there is a human, well, sorry, Maureen, one of my
clients on the tour, to be more precise. And she's
interacting with the dog by looking at him and smiling,
giving us a reflected sence of pleasure and fun.
In Pic 2 we have a
different story. Here pooch has successfully retried
aforementioned ball and is mooching up for another go.
Direct contact with the viewer, full face-on with a purpose,
but unfortunately again you can't really see the ball.
Pic 3's Unique Selling
Point is the archway of course, but we'll talk about that
later. In this section we're talking about what the subject
is doing, or isn't doing, or what he may be feeling etc. if
we allow ourselves to anthropomorphosise slightly. Here he's
showing us a nice profile silhouette, which does have a
certain charm, although from a distance his head does look
rather like that of a snub-nosed duck.
Pic 4 is marvellous
precisely because of it's lack of activity. Why? Because we
just know he wants someone to play with him, the sadly
motionless ball just begging to be thrown for him to chase.
It's a subtle but powerful form of contrast to show
something or someone which is normally in motion motionless.
Pic 5 brings us full
circle with another dynamic action shot, minus the human,
sorry, minus Maureen. It's a much better action in itself,
because we can see the ball first of all, and then there's
the eager open jaw, the two front paws and the wagging tail
So to sum up, you could
say the choice in this section is between action and
inaction, and the emotions stirred up by it in this context.
This is the only other
aspect I'm going to cover in this lesson, as issues such as
focus and exposure, not to mention ambient lighting conditions
are more or less constant over the five pics.
Now, I'm unfortunately
going to eliminate Pic 5 immediately, due to the fact that...
the name of the theatre has been cut in half. For me, written
names, and especially famous or atmospheric ones have to be
treated with respect. In this case the curious name of this
lovely little theatre gives a real sense of place and I want it
in it entirety, despite the fact that the dog's position is
Pic 2 has a strong
perspective thanks to the line of paving stones leading from the
open door to the dog and then to us. I like it a lot, but if I'm
forced to choose...
Pic 1 is a bit to 'busy'
for me - the tables, the people, the theatre doors, the other
doors... Of course, I could and will crop later, but
nevertheless, this one isn't going to make the cut for me.
Which leaves Pics 3 and
4. To arch or not to arch... that is the question.
Well, in the end, I
shall probably work on both of them for my portfolio. The pic
with the arch does have, let's be honest, a classic framing
device and is quite nicely balanced, along with a pleasing
subject position and pose. And Pic 4 positively oozes pathos,
and being a sensitive soul on occasion that's why I'll probably
go with this one in the end. Even the lack of arch contributes
to the feeling of abandonment which may be inexistent, but we
can imagine what we like, can't we?
(By the way, you'll
notice that in the final pic I ended up making almost the bottom
half of the picture cobblestones. The way things were working I
wasn't getting enough feeling of isolation with a traditional
crop. This big space in front of Fido emphasises his imagined
loneliness, and the texture is reasonable in the end after some
As this analysis
progressed I thought of another judging criterion: contrast. I
noticed that two of the shots, funnily enough the two finalists
from the Composition section, Pics 3 and 4, had stronger
contrast than the others.
This was due to them
being taken from further away from the subject, underneath the
arch, so there was less overhead lighting, which was extremely
flat due to cloud cover. The camera was also shooting more
horizonally in Pics 3 and 4, allowing the spaces between the
cobbles to become more obvious.
winner is... Pic 4 (with an honourable mention to Pic 3 too!)
Then comment on this
lesson in the
Photo Blog with a link to your best result - we all want to see
- Try to capture or create
different moods of the same subject. Get the subject to
do different things - for a human it could be to read
quietly and then tell you a joke or tell you what makes
them really angry. For an animal you could capture it
both at rest and at play. This sort of approach can
allow you to create some wonderful triptychs showing
different sides to someone's character.
- Find a lively subject such as
an animal or a child who is moving all over the place
but not actually going anywhere and snap away. Shoot
wide and play around afterwards with funny crops to see
what happens. You might be surprised how strong a shot
you can grab out of what looks like an average snap.
- Move around a highly textured
subject, such as a roughly hewn statue or a mature tree
with deeply cracked bark, even on a cloudy day, and see
how what happens - I think you'll be surprised, but it's
only by taking shots yourself and studying them later
that you'll be convinced and add another weapon to your
- capturing a
sometimes there are clear choices, such as still or
moving, happy or sad, and you have to decide which one
you want to portray. Decide how you can manipulate these
- here, throwing the ball produced the desired contrast
between the more melancholy 'waiting for the ball to be
thrown' pose, and allowed a greater, if more difficult
set of options to be created
- composition - with
animals and kids it's often necessary to shoot at a
wider angle than strictly necessary to give yourself
more options later. You have no idea where they are
going to run off to next or what the background will be.
Just shoot enough shots that you do have a choice and
crop judiciously back home, which is a lot of fun in
- contrast - contrast can
be affected by where to you take the shot from, both in
terms of what's above you (open sky or covered), and the
angle you shoot from - be particularly aware of this
when taking pictures of things like cobblestones with
marvellous texture which can be totally destroyed if you
shoot down on them from above, under a uniformly grey
cloudy sky. If you can't change the direction the
light's coming from, sometimes changing the angle you
are shooting from can have a similar effect
~ Comment on this lesson in the Photo Blog
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