Sunday, October 15, 2017

About Facing - Where Is Everybody Looking?

Photo #1
This photo was taken in the "Armory" of the San Francisco Opera Company (Photo #1). This small but extremely secure room is located deep within the Opera House, and stores all of the weapons used as props. I happens that a woman from our service area donated three swords she acquired in her travels in Spain many years back. Not a great shot, but the best I could do given the cramped quarters and the rushed atmosphere of the photo. If you look closely, you can see the clock in the background, and trust me, these folks are off the clock and anxious to get home.

I pose to you this question: Who is them  most important person in the group? This might be debatable: Everybody seems to be looking at the woman in white, but based on the placement of the subjects, you might think it's the woman with the red striped shirt. Which is it?

Based on content, you'd guess the woman in white, but based on composition, the woman in red gets the vote. In fact, it's the woman in white, and the confusion points out subject placement is about as important as the direction of your subjects' gaze. To the good, everybody is looking towards the center which keeps the viewer's gaze inside the photo. But the woman on the right, positioned at the horizontal one-third line, is in the strongest position, from a composition perspective. Based on position alone, my Woman In Red (stripes) appears to be the star.

Let's Make A Rule: Yeah, yeah, rules were made to be broken. But when you only have a few minutes to produce a shot, these simple points are worth remembering:
  • Main subject placed in line with the junction of center and rightmost  vertical third, with her/his head about one-third from the top edge of the frame.
  • Main subject faces camera left.
  • All subjects looking towards the center of the frame.
Had I made these two subjects trade places, the photo would have worked much better.
Photo #2
In this shot, a local Judge (fourth from the left) is distributing divorce cases to several volunteer attorneys (Photo #2). For the most part a decent photo, but if I could have gotten her to look up at somebody, she would have increased her importance in the photo. As it was, there is a courtroom full of people just off screen waiting patiently for the proceedings to resume, and I wasn't in a position to impose my wishes in a crowd of people who had everything to lose if I took up too much of their time. Incidentally, this photo was cropped to eliminate some visual distractions on Camera Right. See Photo #4.

Next time, I just say "Your Honor, would you make eye contact with one of the attorneys?"

Photo #3
The Judge looks much better in this Photo #3, but I decided that the expressions weren't serious enough for the occasion. As strange as it might be, I thought this shot had a too much "leg". I still consider my first choice the better shot, but not by much.

Photo #4
You may notice that Photo #4 is the uncropped version of Photo #2. In this shot, you can see the consequences of including too many people. My subjects at the right seem to be having a "side bar" conversation of their very own, and if that was the intent of the photo, I would have run with it. But my cropped version puts more emphasis on the Judge, where it belongs.

Final Notes: Photographing in a courtroom means you have to run the security gauntlet, and  no matter how good you think your plans are, something is bound to go wrong. I was at security at 1:50, but didn't get to Courtroom 6A for fifteen more minutes, and even then I had an escort. And for all my preparation, the shot came down to a series of six images, taken with my camera held "Hail Mary" above my head, using Live Preview to guide my composition, to avoid a cluttered foreground. Lighting was provided by a single, on-camera SB-900 with a Diffusion Dome. There just wasn't time to do anything else. This really only works because my subjects were all about the same distance from the flash, and the background was relatively close to my subjects.