Photo by David Schloss
Scrolling through a gallery of images taken by my editor from a recent trip abroad, I noticed a couple of interesting photos. I don’t mean “cover of a magazine” interesting or maybe even Instagrammable, but for where the focal point was in a very difficult scene.
In this instance, the scene was Kendo practice in a setting that had all the appeal of a middle-school multipurpose room. Out of a hundred students, one hundred are moving, and most photographers would grab their 70-200mm and snap tight shots, which is a perfectly fine thing to do.
But notice how this photo goes in another direction. Instead of freezing the motion in a tight shot, it conveys how crazy the room was, and brings you into the strenuous action. Kendo, translated to “sword way,” is a modern martial art that descended from swordsmanship and is widely practiced in Japan with bamboo swords and protective armor. It’s also very loud, with shouts expressing a fighting spirit when striking an opponent.
To get this type of shot, first ignore all the distractions, then slow the shutter all the way down for a motion blur and just fast enough for some detail. If strobes are available, a back-curtain sync would get a frozen element. Then look for something still, and you’ll see that the masters are in the back of the frame observing, most notably this one.
So, when faced with a confusing, difficult scene, look at it differently, and try to figure out a way to convey the feeling that a typical shoot would not.
Another example is in a baseball stadium and being in the stands too far away to get any of the close-up action on the field. In this setting, consider a wide angle and finding a moment in the crowd instead, like Turtle Man.
Finding The Felt Angle
A few weekends ago, I was in Park City for a couple’s getaway and shooting a bicycle for a related story on my bike blog. The subject of the photo is a Felt FRD mountain bike, and it’s built up specifically for the style of riding the Deer Valley Resort demands. A typical action-sports beauty shot would put the bike in a gnarly setting or in tight to show off the specs.
To indicate the Felt’s specificity to the terrain and explain that in the copy, I placed the bike with the resort right in the background. And, with the composition, telephoto compression and depth-of-field separation effectively showed off the bike and where I was with it.
The client, Park City Demos, was thrilled for the context and how I made their bike look sexy. The unsexy part was the three hours I spent getting the angle just right, the hundreds of throwaways, and finally laying on my belly in the grass about 800 feet away from the bike.
When looking for angles, also remember the old photographer’s adage: Notice where all the photographers are and go somewhere else.
My editor and I did so recently, with, I think, great results.
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