Cre­ative paths

In part two of his new 13-part se­ries, Michael ex­plores how pho­to­graphs can be en­hanced if they’re en­er­gised by some ac­tion – and the less pre­dictable it is, the bet­ter

NPhoto - - Contents -

Michael Freeman shares his ad­vice for hav­ing some­thing hap­pen in your pho­to­graphs

There are many sit­u­a­tions where you might not want any ac­tion dis­turb­ing your care­fully set, calm com­po­si­tion. A for­mal ar­chi­tec­tural study or a stark min­i­mal­ist land­scape, for ex­am­ple, are oc­ca­sions that don’t need ex­tra ac­tion. Other im­ages, pos­si­bly even the ma­jor­ity, come alive when some­thing in the frame en­er­gises them through some event. It can be a small, slightly strange or el­e­gant thing, or any­thing that fits in be­yond the ob­vi­ous and com­pletely pre­dictable.

Want­ing some­thing to hap­pen goes deep to the heart of pho­to­graphic style, and most of us veer in one di­rec­tion or an­other. Style is a strangely un­ex­plored as­pect, out­side of cu­ra­tor’s notes for an ex­hi­bi­tion, and yet it’s some­thing most pho­tog­ra­phers would like to have a han­dle on. With­out get­ting into the specifics of in­di­vid­ual pho­tog­ra­phers’ styles, which can be risky art-crit ter­ri­tory, there’s a ba­sic scale that goes from Quiet to Dra­matic, which you could also call Re­strained to En­er­getic. Hav­ing things hap­pen in an im­age def­i­nitely be­longs to the Dra­matic/En­er­getic camp, and is al­most a credo of street pho­tog­ra­phy. As with all of the cre­ative paths I’ll present in this se­ries, it has its own di­rec­tion, and it won’t suit ev­ery pho­to­graph.

The ba­sic sce­nario is that you have a scene in front of you, or at least a fram­ing, and some of the right in­gre­di­ents in place. Sub­ject, light, colour, con­trast, what­ever – it’s nearly there. But some­where in the back of your head there’s the nag­ging wish that if, say, some­one just came and did some­thing, it would be com­plete. Imag­ine a street shot where you have two peo­ple in con­ver­sa­tion and the light­ing’s good and the set­ting is in­ter­est­ing, and they haven’t no­ticed you, so you can shoot for a bit. But they’re not ex­press­ing much, and you think, “If only

they’d share a joke and laugh. Or even ar­gue!” It may be frus­trat­ing that you can do noth­ing to in­flu­ence it, but that’s re­ally the point – you’re hop­ing for some­thing to hap­pen that’s out­side your con­trol, be­cause that will make the shot more in­ter­est­ing.

The un­cer­tainty prin­ci­ple

The ti­tle of this fea­ture is care­fully worded. To ‘Have’ some­thing hap­pen isn’t to ‘Make’ it hap­pen. If you could art-di­rect a scene so that it con­tained a neat piece of ac­tion, how valu­able would that be? It would def­i­nitely work in a com­mer­cial life­style or fash­ion shoot, but for pure street theatre it would be in­ter­fer­ence that killed the spon­tane­ity. Any kind of nat­u­ral re­portage de­pends on un­cer­tainty, which in turn de­pends on your skill, an­tic­i­pa­tion and/or pa­tience to cap­ture an un­ex­pected mo­ment. You might feel ex­posed to cir­cum­stances be­yond your con­trol, and it would be safer if you could con­trol them, but cap­tur­ing an un­scripted mo­ment, how­ever or­di­nary, is what pho­tog­ra­phy alone can do.

Hav­ing some­thing hap­pen may seem lit­tle more than will­ing it to hap­pen, which doesn’t sound like much of a tech­nique, but there are two things you can mas­ter. One is to be more than usu­ally alert so you are able to an­tic­i­pate one or two things that might hap­pen, as in the ex­am­ples here, and ex­er­cise the pa­tience to wait un­til they do.

The other is to ac­cept that suc­cess­ful shots that de­pend on un­cer­tainty don’t hap­pen ev­ery minute, and that you’re fish­ing for prize events, not ev­ery­day min­nows. In any case, don’t be sat­is­fied with what you have in front of you at the start. It could be bet­ter if you wait.

You’re hop­ing for some­thing to hap­pen that’s out­side your con­trol, be­cause that’ll make the shot more in­ter­est­ing

This old foot­bridge, at a Shinto shrine in Ja­pan, was lit by a shaft of sun­light break­ing through the for­est. What it needed, and what hap­pened after a long wait, was a Shinto priest cross­ing it, pass­ing through the sun­light. I used the wait­ing time to test my ex­po­sure set­tings.

If you en­joy this ar­ti­cle and want to learn more, there are 50 more paths to be dis­cov­ered in Michael’s new book Fifty Paths to Cre­ative Pho­tog­ra­phy (NB: all 50 are dif­fer­ent from those that will be fea­tured here in the mag­a­zine).

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.