Friday, July 24, 2009

Dancing feet

My sons and I looked like paparazzi today at the "So you think you can dance?" auditions in Salt Lake City—at least that's what the publicist and security guys seemed to think. We were respectful of the request not to photograph Cat Deeley even though she's my favorite 12-foot glamazonion TV goddess AND even though I'm quite certain (thanks to my regular reading of the Photo Attorney blog) that anything in public (such as a bunch of fame-hungry dancers in a line) is fair game. Even the mother of a a jazz belly dancer (what the?) was asked not to take photos of her daughter being interviewed. That's taking it a bit too far.

But my boys and I hadn't come there to take paparazzi photos anyway. I was more interested in doing some fragmentary portraiture of dancers' feet.

The dancers were all so friendly. The boy with the amazing turnout in the blue Nikes told me he made it to Vegas last year. Maybe he'll go to Hollywood this time.

I couldn't resist a shot of these dancing feet.

The proud owner of these feet is already on the "hot tamale train."

Call me crazy, but I'm not sure that flip-flops are the best choice for ballroom dancing.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The body and things directly attached to it...

Eva with her "nibbley blankie"

Trying to clean up my hard drive and found this photo of cuddled up to what she calls her "nibbley blankie." We bought an identical one as soon as we knew how attached she was to it, but that one remains pristine, pink, and neglected while this one apparently gets better as it gets more ragged and dingy.

This is pushing my definition of "fragmentary portraiture," but I will argue that it fits into "the body and things directly attached to it" part of the definition.

Think about ways to portray someone through something that is always attached to their body. A piercing? a ring? a pencil they keep behind their ear? a name tag they have to wear at work every day? Try it and post your results.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Composition 101: Strong Diagonals

Still swamped with work and neglecting the blog (even my fortune cookie is two months past expiration date), but here's a quick tip for composing and/or cropping photos:

Look for strong diagonal lines.

I'm the first to want to ignore all rules (just ask my colleagues), so let's not call this a rule. It's more of a helpful tip that will make you aware of what you already know on an instinctive level: our eyes like diagonal lines. You may or may not have noticed that fact before, but once you start paying attention, you will notice diagonal lines everywhere. Let's just look at, say, some album covers:
Notice how Sheryl Crow's album cover portrait basically creates a triangle? The ground is the base of the triangle, the tilted guitar is the right side, and her tilted body is the left side. The dark background is simple so as not to compete with that main shape.

Less obvious at first glance, the Jamie Cullum album cover also forms a triangle. Jamie's head is the tip, and each arm points toward invisible lines that extend to the base made up of piano and horizon.

The Red Hot Chili Pepper's cover art has very strong diagonal lines. The negative space in between the heads creates a giant "X" (an appropriate letter, I suppose, given the "parental advisory" label) right through the middle of the album.

We may as well look at an MJ cover. Notice the strong diagonal line that sweeps from bottom left to top right?

Not a photo, but Coldplay owes the strong diagonals on their album cover to Delacroix (and they owe their music to any number of litigants, if you believe in frivolous law suits).

Another "X marks the spot" composition demands attention on this Horehound album cover.

This portrait of Crosby Loggins wouldn't be half as compelling without those strong diagonals.

I could go on and on and on....

If you happen to have iTunes open, try flipping through your album cover art for diagonals and see what you find.

But wait, you say, wasn't Music and Photography last month's theme???
Uh, yeah, but the point here is that when doing this month's specialfragmentary portraiture—you need to pay attention to composition more than ever.

Look at the photos in my last two posts and you'll see what I mean.

If it's seeming clear, give it a try by taking a photo and cropping it to achieve different strong diagonals.

In conclusion, I want to emphasize that this is by no means a rule. Plenty of great photography can be found with very straight lines. We also tend to like grids. And circles. But the more attention you pay to the shapes in your images, the more you will be able to get photos that appeal to your eye's love of geometry.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Photographing Hands

Hands hiding from a portrait can become the portrait

I hope to get back to more frequent posts soon, but this is the busiest season for photography (the kind I actually get paid to do). Just a thought or two about hands and portraiture...

Remember that great photo of hands making bread in my interview with Brad Slade? No? Well here it is:
It shows how much meaning is conveyed in a person's hands. Brad's photo also teaches a good lesson about how to do a portrait of hands: show them in action. Capture the mechanic at work. Capture the child finger painting. Show hands turning the pages of a book. Hands holding a favorite possession. You get the picture.

The photo at the top shows a kind of playful shyness as the smile peeks out through the hands. My son's hands also suggest that he can be both playful and stressed (a nail biter like his Dad).

Try doing a portrait that focuses on the hands of someone you love. And when you do, share your results.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

July Monthly Special: Fragmentary Portraiture

Our son, Lucas, has his mom's lovely pout...
...and his dad's playfulness.

Have you ever noticed that one of the first things parents, family, friends, and sometimes even strangers do when they see a baby is to play a "match that feature" game? Oh, she has her father's eyes! That chin is definitely from our side of the family. He looks just like you! Your great uncle had that exact same hair! Sometimes relatives from both sides of the family seem to want to stake their claim on as many parts as possible, each set of grandparents insisting that junior is the spitting image of someone on their side of the genetic tree. But I don't believe this tendency is actually a turf war, because casual acquaintances and complete strangers are just as likely to participate in it. I know I have. Have you ever told someone how much their child looks like them only to find out that they're adopted? I have.

In other relationships, we also focus on the parts more than the whole. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, maybe it's because each beholder focuses on different parts. At the wedding I shot last Saturday, the groom described meeting the bride in a history class where she was seated next to him. "The first thing I noticed was her perfect little nose," he reminisced.

Facial features are a pretty safe bet if you want to recognize a person's physical qualities without coming across like a pervert of a sexist pig. The line between "appreciating" and "objectifying" is often found just below the neck.

Because love and sexuality have so much impact on our choices in life, we can understand how easily a part-by-part look at a person can slip into connotations beyond our intentions. But looking at the part as it relates to the whole need not be about love or attraction. A person's hands say a lot about their occupation (manual laborer?), their personality (meticulous? stressed out?), aesthetics (quirky? minimalist?). A compelling portrait does not necessarily need a complete face. In fact, it may not need a face at all.

The challenge
This month we will look at what I am calling—for lack of a better term— "fragmentary portraiture." Had I wanted to wax literary (as I am prone to do), I could have chosen "metonymic" or "synecdochal" portraiture. But people tend to find the terms confusing. If I wanted to create a painfully stupid yet descriptive pun, I could have called this "partraiture." But then, to many people in Utah, that pronunciation just sounds like the local dialect. I also could have chosen "extreme close-up," but that's not what I'm going for. "Fragmentary portraiture" is a portrait through an isolated part of a person, and that doesn't have to mean it will be a close-up.

Fragmentary portraiture, as I am choosing to define it:
  • conveys a sense of the person through a depiction that is limited to a single part
  • includes the body and things directly attached to it (i.e. clothes count, but a car—even if you are almost always in it—does not).
That's it. The basic idea is simple, but allows for a lot of possibilities (but let's keep it family friendly, shall we?).

Hopefully, I will get this whole link problem sorted out in the next few days. If, for any reason, you want to post and share your results but can't get the link to work, just email it to me.
UPDATE to link problems: almost completely fixed! feel free to post your results whenever you have them (don't forget to use the permalink URL of your post—and check the "TOP monthly special" box when adding a link" but not just for a comment)