Millimeter Can Make The Difference

I have talked about shooting enough photos of a subject to allow our imagination and creativity kick-in.  Now that we are all doing just that (making plenty of pictures every time we approach a subject) we can see for ourselves how even just a millimeter’s change in angle can make the difference between a good and a great photograph.  Or, for that matter, it doesn’t take much to make the difference between a good shot and a crummy one.

If we print all the digital images from a shoot as large thumbnails we’ll have a several pages of images we can study side-by-side.  This should give us some insight about our work that looking at our photos one at a time will never give us.

Editing software, such as PhotoShop, gives us the opportunity to rate photos from zero to five stars.  Here are some guides to use as we look to see if we have any FIVE STAR photos in that shoot.

Exposure.  Not just the technically correct one, but the proper exposure for the effect we wish to convey.  We can under expose a little to emphasize graphics or over exposed (this is done a lot in fashion photography to diminish skin tones or to emphasize eyes and lips).

Model Hannah Broeils [NIKON D5, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/125]
Focus.  I love selective focus where the depth of field is very shallow.  This lets me direct the viewer’s attention to where I want it to go.  It makes the subject pop out.  We see this used in fashion and sports photography a lot.  Just the opposite (a deep depth of field) may be just what is needed in landscape photos and certainly it is necessity in macro photography.

Togo, West Africa [NIKON D5, 85.0 mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/1.8, 1/125]
Anytime we can make someone feel as if they can see into our photography we have truly accomplished something.  After all, it is only a two dimensional object.

The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is a nonprofit botanical garden and nature preserve located on the 4 mile scenic route off of Route 19 at 27-717 Old Māmalahoa Highway, Pāpa’ikou, Hawaii, Hawaii. [X-E3, XF10-24mmF4 R OIS, ISO 6400, ƒ/18, 1/100]
Composition.  Medical students are told, “First, do no harm.” Photographers should take the same advice and leave out all unnecessary elements.  All composition is the selection of what should be in and what should be out of the frame when we release the shutter.  Speaking of framing… to add depth to a picture frame it as you take it.   Shoot under the branch of a tree or through a door or window.  A frame is only one of many visual elements that can draw a viewer into our photo.  Elements like leading lines will give it a three-dimensional feel.

Anytime we can make someone feel as if they can see into our photography we have truly accomplished something.  After all, it is only a two dimensional object.

Matriculation Day 2017 The Citadel [NIKON D5, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 100, f/7.1, 1/320]
See how the feet are cut off.

Matriculation Day 2017
The Citadel [NIKON D5, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 100, f/7.1, 1/320]
Just barely moving the camera we can include the feet and anchor the photo.

[Nikon D3, 24-120mm, ISO 200, ƒ/14, 1/250 – Alienbees B1600 for fill flash]
Lighting.  Light can draw one into the photo, too.  Light is probably, next to expression and body language, the most dramatic, mood-setting tool we have as photographers.  The color temperature can be powerful.  The warm late evening light, the cool early morning colors or the green cast of florescent office light each carries a mood of its own.

Togo, West Africa [Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/4, 1/200]
Expression.  Realtors like to say what matters is location, location, location.  Portrait photographers KNOW that the composition may be beautiful, the lighting creative, the clothing and background perfect, but if the EXPRESSION isn’t what it needs to be…. No sale!  Is a smile what is needed? (By the way, NEVER tell ANYONE to smile.)  Most adults can’t turn it on an off and kids will come up with some rather unusual expression, but generally NOT a real smile.  If, as a photographer we need the to smile – naturally – then it is up to us to elicit one from them.  We owe them that.  After all, we ARE the photographers.  Usually pictures of people should show their faces.  Sounds obvious, but if our subjects are watching something happening, say a ball game or a birthday party, we must be sure we are not so distracted by the event that we forget what is important… our main subject, the faces of our subjects.

Body Language. We can photograph someone several feet away (and not even show their face) and still communicate a great deal about them if we watch their body language.  Watch their arms.  It’s amazing what we say just by the position of our arms.  Do our subject’s arms communicate what we want?  Are they open or closed?  Is the person in our photo leaning forward or backward?  Does their position engage or pull back?  Do they appear to be sensitive or cold? Are they reaching out to another or pushing them away?

This little boy shepherd is part of the Fulani tribe which is known for being herdsmen and is working in the village of Soubakamedougou, Burkina Faso on October 15, 2005. The Marlboro company gives hats to the young boy cowboys to promote their product in Burkina Faso. [NIKON D2X, 18.0-125.0 mm f/3.3-5.6, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/90]
The Eyes.  An eye doctor may tell us that the eyes really don’t change.  Perhaps that is true in a technical sense.  Be that as it may, watch the eyes.  They tell it all!  However it happens the eyes are the essence of a portrait.

Togo, West Africa [Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/1.8, 1/200]
The Head.  A millimeter’s turn of the head, a slight tilt is all it takes to make the difference between a zero and a five star photography.

This is in no way a comprehensive list, it is only a sampling of many things we need consider when “grading” our photos.

By moving the camera merely a millimeter you can include their feet rather than chopping them off, leave out or include another person and change the mood.

Just a millimeter or so can keep the tree from growing out of your spouse’s head.  Moving an inch to the left may let the camera see a person’s face a little better or distinguish the main subject from their surroundings.

When we shoot enough photos we get to see the difference just a millimeter’s change can make.  It is then we will begin to see the why one photo is bad and another is good.

In the Olympics it can be the difference in millimeters that determines who wins and looses a race.  In photography it can be what determines the great photo from the others.