Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to look at it more closely. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Creating an Emotional Visual-Dialog

I stood on a high grassy knoll overlooking Oklahoma's Tallgrass Prairie one late spring day.  The visuals were stunning in depth and impact...yet the photographs I took at the moment fell well short of what I felt emotionally. Something was missing and I was disappointed that my work from atop that hill just wouldn't make the cut.  But...all was not lost for I learned an important lesson as a result.  I began to evaluate what I was doing more closely and took a hard look at why those images did not portray what I was feeling.  After comparing that set of images with others that I know generated more emotion, I began to see a pattern.  What happened was that one set of images failed to generate a Visual-Dialog.  Even though what I was observing first hand was stunning, I failed to capture the emotion of the moment.

Visual Dialog in a photograph means that when someone views the image, they are moved emotionally by all the elements present.  Those elements are what transforms a visual moment into a place and time where the viewer can interject themselves into your vision.  Numerous things contribute to that effect, even so, what I've discovered in most of my favorite images and in other similar images are six elements that are common to each.  These six elements are used in various combinations to build Visual Dialog.

Let's take a look.

Drama:
All effective images contain an element of Drama.  What Drama refers to here is that element that defines the impact of the image.  It adds depth, meaning, and purpose.  It provides what is called an Interest of Conflict...not to be confused with Conflict of Interest.  All good drama's contain conflict...it is what dictates interest.  A photograph is a visual story and drama within it can appear in many forms.  Things like Light vs Dark...Hot vs Cold...Sad vs Happy...and even more subtle forms like desire...searching...mystery.

Drama is partially determined by the theme of the image and is defined by the quality of the light.  Drama can often be quite subtle or it can boldly jump off the page.  If the image is structured just so, the viewer will generate their own idea of what the drama is...simply by interpreting the variables contained in photograph.

Symphonic Melody
Symphonic Melody (SM) is the engine that drives the impact of the image.  It determines the character and flavor of the image...and even the drama.  Color and contrast are often two of the most important elements that define SM and they can often be associated with mood.  Ask yourself...What is it I want to capture here?...then search for ways to isolate that mood...or generate that SM.  Look for color, look for angles, look for expressions of atmosphere...then use the tools on your camera to capture its essence.  SM is a way of blending the physical elements into an emotionally expressive image.

Boldness
Boldness adds another level of depth to an image by combining unique textures, forms, lines, colors and contrasts with the various angles and qualities of light.  Composition is a critical element in defining boldness and contributes to the overall strength of the image.  Boldness is what takes an ordinary situation and turns it into an extraordinary moment.  Look for strong reference points, but remember that boldness doesn't necessarily always mean big and dynamic...it also includes defining something in softer and more subtle ways.

Simplicity of Purpose
A common theme throughout this blog...whenever you are photographing, always think in terms of simplicity.  Simplicity of purpose is what melds all the elements in to a single homogenous composition.  Nothing in the image is wasted and everything is there for a reason.  Simplicity doesn't mean a lack of complex details...it simply means everything in the image works toward telling the single story.

Story
Too many story lines in an image will confuse the viewer.  Ask yourself..what is this image all about..then focus on those elements.  Story is the Visual Dialog the viewer sees.  Combine light as your canvas...composition as your theme...and subject as your story.  Story ties in with all the other elements we've discussed.  Story can be straight forward...like excitement...fear...beauty...or it can be more subtle...something like...what happened here...or a poignant reference to an event or look in someones eyes...or the mystery of what's around the bend.

Impression
Impression is your personal interpretation of a moment of light.  Impression requires a strong understanding of how to use light to enhance the story and subject.  Light is what applies the impressionistic interpretation of the vision you have...it is through impression that you determine how you want the image to look...not necessarily how it actually looks while you are viewing it.  Impression implies that the image you create captures the essence...not necessarily the exact duplication...of what is there.  A good example is photographing wind...you can't...but you photograph the effects of the wind.


Creating emotional visual dialog in a photograph might sound like an overtaxing dilemma, but once you begin to think and apply those concepts, it actually becomes more instinctive and requires less thought than simply reacting to the situation...almost like how an athlete reacts without thinking about what he's doing.  The idea here is to simply get you to thinking more critically about what you doing.

Keith

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