Character Style and Mood in Photography Part 2 – Hints of Hidden Things
By Peter Maynard
See part 1 of Peters Report HERE.
Thank you all for your positive response to my first essay on character, style and mood in photography. As I edited that article it forced me to think about why I adopt the approach that I do to photography, so apart from anything else it was useful as a means of clarifying my own thinking on the subject. For those who read it you may recall I talked about my belief that we should each search for an approach to image making that reflects our own personality and preferred personal style. I also argued the merits of deliberately using mood and leaving something to the viewers’ imagination so they can interpret the image in their own way.
I had a number of images that I had considered using in the last article but did not in the end use due to considerations of length, so I thought I might as well prepare a part 2. Maybe it will help inspire others to try something different in their own photography. For those of you who have had a look at my Flickr site you may have seen that I have tagged photos “life in shadows”. This stems from my film shooting days when I was largely shooting monochrome. It seemed to me that much of photography was about representing life using shadows and light. Hence – “life in shadows.” I have headed this article “hints of hidden things” as it seems a little more relevant to the theme I have been writing about – the use of mood, the value of the power of suggestion and the idea that leaving some things to the viewers’ imagination can actually help improve an image. For those who have expressed interest in an article on post processing, I have not forgotten. Subject to Steve’s agreement, I will prepare an article for future publication. By the way I realize that by now some of you will have had a peek at my Flickr site so some of the following images may be familiar to you (if so, my apologies).
The first image is a favourite of mine although I am not sure why. However, I do know that what appeals to me has something to do with the presence in the image of the steeple of the old clock tower. Other than this it is nothing more than a jumble of buildings reflected in the window of another building. I suppose it does suggest something about the nature of change and progress or perhaps about the permanence of some aspects of the past. And of course it says something to me about my home town.
Some images appeal to me just because of the patterns that they contain. I have to admit that I love abstract photos. The following two are examples of pure abstracts. The first is an abstract take on a building reflected in the window of another building. What makes it in my view, is the distortion that the reflected image is given by the slight misalignment of the panes of glass and the subtle colors.
The second of these demonstrates why sometimes you just have to be thankful for the opportunities thrown up unexpectedly when you have a camera in your hand. If you look closely this image is nothing more than an office shot through a window. But with a boost to contrast in post processing and a little added glow, it becomes something that reminds me of an abstract painting by a modern artist like a Kandinski or a Miro (all those lines and blocks of colour). To be honest it may not appeal to everyone but I just liked exactly that – the lines and angles together with the colours. I guess the message is always have a camera with you if you are serious about photography. I know I feel naked without one.
While on the theme of making the best of opportunities that present themselves, the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia has a water wall the front of the building – a wall of glass with water perpetually flowing down it. It’s a gift to photographers like me who love images that give a slight twist to reality. I especially like the following image for the relationship between the people in the photo as well as for the two eye-catching splashes of red. You just can’t plan these things – but you can anticipate them. I knew this would be a good spot for photos and so I hung out on an interior mezzanine floor overlooking the wall for perhaps an hour while snapping the occasional shot as images presented themselves. I knew that sooner or later something would turn up.
And this image made in the same place on the same day seems to work too, although it is very spare in terms of its content. Once more, a splash of red works to heighten interest.
With one exception, the following six shots are all similar to many of those used in the last article – people in one of my favourite settings – enjoying themselves with friends over a coffee or a meal. (Hint, if you are nervous about street photography it is easy to get natural and engaging photographs of people when they are concentrating on their friends or food). To a greater or lesser extent they all demonstrate the ideas I talked about in that article, especially the ideas of deliberately using blur, distortion and shadow to create mood and to encourage viewers to make their own interpretations of the images. All of these have involved some post processing (mainly cropping, tone, colour etc.) to bring them to their final state, but to a large extent what you see is what I saw (i.e. I have not set out to create something new – just enhance what was already there).
The third image in the series is well out of focus. Here is another hint. If something goes wrong, do not be too quick to delete photos that have not turned out (which often happens when shooting candidly in streets). I was using autofocus, which I think focussed on the reflections, not on the main subjects. Kismet! For some reason this worked better than it might have had I focussed correctly. I often find it is possible to come back, perhaps months later, to photos that I initially rejected and find something interesting in them. This was one of those.
I will end this article with one final photo which is an example demonstrating what can be done with a more extreme approach to post processing if you are of a mind to do so. This image was actually taken on an aircraft when flying off to an overseas holiday a few years ago. I thought the photo was quite good, helped by the quirky pose of the subject, but the setting was boring. At a loss to what else to do with it and as an experiment, I tweaked the colour (lowering saturation), the tone (increasing contrast and adding a vignette), the sharpness (adding some blur and glow) and also added a semi-transparent texture overlay for no better reason than I was interested to see what I could make of an image that I thought to be good but which had a background which intruded. Although you would never know it, the halo like glow is light entering through the plane’s window.
I full well realise that some think this amount of post processing is “cheating” in some way, but my view has always been that particularly in this age of digital imaging, image making is about the end result – not how you get there and so as long as you are honest about it that’s OK. Besides in this case it is a way of using a photo that otherwise may not have been a keeper. It is another example of how you can take a more or less boring image and then add elements to invest it with a character that has more interest. I will pick up on this theme in a future article in which I will provide a few suggestions and examples of how to improve basic images by post processing that takes you beyond the usual processing that involves little more than reducing digital noise, sharpening etc.
If you feel so inclined, please visit my Flickr site.
Or you can visit some I have placed on Pinterest for a more succinct overview of some of my images.