Friday, May 21, 2010

Using angles and lenses in visual story-telling

At a recent photo lecture I gave on travel photography, an attendee asked, “I’ve been to some of the same places as you, own similar equipment too, but my photos aren’t as good as yours . Why?”

The only difference I’ve come across elevating the professionals from amateurs is that the professionals think before and while they photograph. I’m always on the lookout, taking mental notes of a scene, taking time to find high or low angles in which to shoot from and always looking for that perfect “magic” light to shoot in, even if I have to return later to capture it.

Sooner or later you’ll be asked to share your pictures, in either a to your friends or associates in the form of a slide show, power point presentation of a display prints.

While you can build these projects around a central theme or subject, try to show an overall feeling of the “spirit” of the place you photographed, rather than just a single theme, for a more visual story.

There is a logic structure in visual storytelling, and you see those technique used everyday on television and in the movies. They are both visual storytelling mediums, and directors use the same techniques to pull you into the story. The same is used in telling stories with photos.

As a still photographer, we can learn a lot from these visual story-telling techniques. The cameraman and director of photography use different types of shots and angles ranging from overalls to close-ups, to establish a story line. The next time you watch a movie, turn off the sound and study the mixture of shots that are used. These same types of shots are useful to keep in mind when you go cover a place with your camera.

Establishing shot – Wide-angle overview that sets up the scene. This is often a high angle shot that will give the viewer a really good idea of the setting.

Medium shot - Usually a closer up view than the establishing shot. Street scenes can be taken with any lens ranging from a wide angle, standard to slight telephoto lenses. I like using my 16-35mm and 70-200mm to capture these types of images.

Close-up shot – Are often pictures that show storytelling details, such as faces, hands, signage, architectural details, food, drink, and artwork.

Point of view shot – Are shots taken from the angle of a participant in an event or action, such as soldier’s view of the battlefield. The POV shots are more of a moving-picture technique than a still-photo, but you can make exciting POV shots by using unusual viewpoints like very high or low angles.

Look for different angles to photograph from. There’s no rule that says everything must be shot from the eye level, so shoot the same subject from low to high angles, even at ground level sitting on your butt, kneeling or laying on your stomach. Each angle will give you a different prospective of the scene.

Every time you set out to photograph a situation, be it a street fair, a market or a walk about through the countryside, keep in mind this mix of shots. Each is important, if you take all establishing shots or all close-ups, you’ll loose the attention of your viewers. In everything you cover, get the establishing shots, the medium shots, detail and close-ups, and if possible the POV shot.

One thing I’ve learned from years of picture taking is “Dare to be different!” All rules of photographic composition can be broken. Break all the rules, be creative, shoot your pictures from the heart and you’ll stand out from the rest.